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June 2024

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Coutesy Photo Liz Vialpando-Poe

Liz Vialpando-Poe

Being raised in a community where your history connects to every part of your present, it is difficult to find the courage to leave. It is similarly difficult to forge a path and stay.

Questa del Rio News is committed to highlighting different members of our community, both those who have created their paths and planted their own roots in the community that raised them, and those who have pursued lives outside of the community – through our Representando series. This series is dedicated to those who are Representando communities in northern Taos County, in various facets of life.

For our May issue, we interviewed Liz Vialpando-Poe. Raised in Questa, Vialpando-Poe graduated from Questa High School in 1999. She knew early on that she wanted to be in the military, so she enlisted between her junior and senior year. Upon graduation, she left for basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Early in her military career, she was a human resources specialist and was assigned to the 6-52 Air Defense Artillery in Ansbach, Germany, to assist in the ongoing conflict stemming from the Prizren incident, a confrontation in 1999 between German Kosovo Force troops advancing into Kosovo and stragglers from the withdrawing Yugoslav Army.

9/11 eventually changed the tide for operations across the military. “On the day it happened, we were nine hours ahead in Germany, and were finishing the day. I heard on the radio that something happened in America. It was hard to understand in German so I sent an instant-message to my sister, and she told me what happened. Everything came to a halt. Formation was canceled, the base was shut down… I just remember everyone rushing to turn on TVs so we could see what was happening.”

Soon after 9/11, her unit was deployed to Afghanistan, where she assisted in managing deployment for over 750 soldiers. Vialpando-Poe ensured soldiers went through medical checks, had proper ID, and next-of-kin documentation. Following that, she was transferred into a military intelligence unit in Arizona where she managed training courses for several different military operational specialties, and helped soldiers just finishing basic training.

While in Arizona, Vialpando-Poe gave birth to a daughter and found herself navigating the military as a single mom. A year later, she met her husband, Daniel, a fellow New Mexican. She then received orders to go to Korea, however, family could not go with her, so she turned down the orders and began to transition out of the military in 2007, after eight years of service.

Transitioning out of the military took some figuring out, as there weren’t many transitional services available to assist service members at that time. Vialpando-Poe started working as a government contractor and decided to move back to New Mexico where she had her second daughter, and got married.

In New Mexico, she started working with the department of energy as a contractor and later moved on to be a federal employee, for ten years. Her government career initially started in public affairs, then transitioned into personnel security. Ultimately, Vialpando-Poe decided to move back to government contracting, working for a company based in Grand Junction, Colorado. She started with them as a program manager of a nuclear weapons contract and worked her way up to chief of operations in five years, managing over $20 million in revenue through approximately 50 government contracts.
Vialpando-Poe recalls being asked about her 5-year plan during a check-in with her boss. “I was hesitant to tell him at first, but I said I wanted to own my own business. I had started researching in 2008, but realized I couldn’t quit my steady job, so I decided to keep patiently waiting for it to make sense. Telling my boss this, however, opened doors, as he knew people who had established businesses and were interested in selling.”

Meeting with one of the companies, she recalls it was a perfect fit. “I knew they were the ones I wanted to proceed with.” In June 2022, she started working with Citrine LLC to negotiate a deal. In June 2023, she bought 51 percent of them and became the majority owner. Citrine is a company founded in 2015 that specializes in engineering design, construction management, and commissioning services.

Vialpando-Poe is the CEO and just in the last year has seen a significant growth of the company. With an impressive 150 percent growth in employees and over 250 percent growth in revenue in the last 18 months, she has big plans for the company. Her company has obtained a service-disabled veteran-owned certificate; small, disadvantaged business certificate; hubzone certificate and is awaiting a minority woman-owned certificate. Additionally, her company employs individuals regionally across six states, with two home offices in Lakewood and Grand Junction, Colorado. She plans on opening a third office in New Mexico in the near future as well.

Vialpando-Poe works out of her Rio Rancho home, traveling to the company’s home offices in Colorado regularly. Her company was the recipient of the 2023 “companies to watch” award by the Colorado office of economic development. Vialpando-Poe is committed to creating a healthy and inclusive environment for her staff. “We’ve had great employee retention and it’s because we meet our employees’ needs, providing flexibility, good benefits, and supportive experiences.”

Coutesy Photo Liz Vialpando-Poe and her family pose for a photo while on vacation

A new recruitment effort for Citrine is focused on hiring veterans. The company partners with Skillbridge and Hiring our Heroes, government programs that help companies to pay service members who are transitioning out of the military for two months while they get trained and primed to take on new civilian roles. “The path for me wasn’t clear after military life. I had to figure it out, so being able to partner on this initiative to help provide more jobs to veterans is such a great way we can be a part of the solution,” she says.

When asked what advice she would give others wanting to pursue a big dream, she says, “Don’t hold back when people are asking you what your plan or your passions are. “I knew I wanted to be a business owner, but I was modest and didn’t know if I should state that up front. I decided to embrace it and now I am the CEO of a business. Don’t be afraid to have big plans and to pursue them. Living your truth will open doors for your future.”

When asked if Questa has played any role in her life and success, she says “I knew I wanted to be able to leave and prove to myself and others that I could succeed. I knew I could do something big; I just didn’t know what. Questa gave me the motivation and drive to join the military and open my horizons, which ultimately led me to where I am today.”

Today, Liz resides in Rio Rancho, NM with her husband of 18 years. Their three daughters all live and work in NM as well, Alex, 25, works for a local government contractor at the Los Alamos Labs, Mikayla, 22, works for a local government contractor and is finishing her Bachelors degree at UNM, and Nevaeh, 18, works as an early education teaching assistant at a local Montessori school.