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Navy Veteran and Engineer Bill Campbell wins dual titles as local and state Small Business Person of the Year

PITTSBURGH – Navy veteran and nuclear engineer Bill Campbell’s one-man engineering crew sailed into entrepreneurship 13 years ago in the basement of his house. Once serving as receptionist, salesman and president, Campbell recently travelled to Washington, D.C to compete for the Small Business Person of the Year award during the 55th annual celebration of U.S. Small Business Administration’s National Small Business Week, April 29-May 5.

Campbell began his quest at the local level, when he was chosen as the Pittsburgh District Office Small Business Person of the Year. The nomination package, compiled by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, then was forwarded to the regional SBA office in Philadelphia to compete with the Eastern Pennsylvania winner to represent the state.

“It’s a great honor,” Campbell said. “I feel very fortunate and respectful to receive such a significant award.”

Today, Campbell, president of WTS, a water treatment and facilities management company, employs 17 at a headquarters building in Monroeville.

“I’m proud our agency was able to assist Bill numerous times to continually grow and reinvent his company,” SBA Pittsburgh District Director Dr. Kelly Hunt said. “He utilized our lending, contracting and Emerging Leaders program -- bettering himself, his business, employees and the community.”

The accolades and awards belie Campbell’s humble beginnings.

“I joined the Navy after graduating from high school, I wanted to mature and learn how to study. I was trained in the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Program, eventually spending four years on the USS Atlanta a nuclear powered submarine,” Campbell explained. “After my enlistment I graduated from Penn State University in three years receiving academic scholarships along the way.”

His background easily transferred to the private sector where Campbell learned the intricacies of industrial water treatment. “Industrial water is analyzed and engineered chemicals are automatically released to condition the water,” he explained. “I realized I could do a better job and provide customers with solutions at valuable pricing, so I started my own business.”

Business was shipshape until the shuttering of area coal facilities in 2009. That’s when Campbell experienced first-hand the ebbs and flows of small business ownership. A business tip set in motion the transformation of his business from water-treatment-based to facilities management.

“I had to know the operating systems to treat water, and a company suggested I bid on their systems maintenance contract which I won and started hiring full-time employees to fulfill the bid” Campbell added. “That’s when we reinvented ourselves to concentrate on facilities management in the power, water and wastewater industries.”

Three years ago, Campbell, through the SBA’s Emerging Leaders executive leadership class, began steering his business into government contracting. Today, 80 percent of sales are from contracts with the Navy, Department of Homeland Security and Veteran’s Affairs. “Just like the commercial sector, government agencies (customers) want companies that can provide expertise and value and that’s what we strive to provide,” he said.

Campbell is receiving his local award at the University of Pittsburgh’s C3 (Creating Opportunities, Connecting Resources and Contracting Diversity) event, May 3. It’s fitting for an entrepreneur who not only hopes to net other contracts at the event, but network with sub-contractors hoping to land opportunities with his crew. “From our first contract in 2015, we’ve added 12 more,” he said. “And we’ve increased receipts 40 percent and employment by 400 percent since then.”

Hunt, an Air Force veteran, is proud VA hospitals around the country are tapping into Campbell’s expertise -- whether he’s providing safe drinking water or combating the spread of legionella. “For legionella, his team cleans the cooling towers, tests the water and, when necessary, adds chemicals,” she explained. “He also samples drinking water for the Las Vegas VA for lead and copper and offers solutions to make it safe.”

SBA’s initiatives are inspiring Campbell to pay it forward; making sure future scientists are ready to assist his efforts by regularly visiting local elementary schools sharing his trade secrets and hoping to spur an interest in STEM-related fields. “I think it’s nice to plant that seed in young children to get them thinking about science,” he stated. “I come in with dirty water, add chemicals and put it through a filter and clean it right before their eyes and they are wowed.”