Archaeology firm formed by three college friends finishes SWLRT field work

Date: Thursday, September 27, 2018
Toys, makeup, beer bottles and cutlery from more than a century ago are among artifacts recovered in a former Minneapolis Royalston neighborhood by In Situ Archaeological Consulting. The finds are part of an archaeological survey for the Southwest LRT Project.
Two workers in green vests looking at papers.
Started as a collaboration by three college friends, In Situ is a minority-owned cultural resource management company specializing in archaeology and laboratory analysis. Since Abe Ledezma, Craig Picka, and Daniel Salas formed it in 2015, they have worked on projects in nearly 20 states. Ledezma said the company has been a lifelong dream.

“We met when we were undergraduate students at Minnesota State University-Moorhead, and ever since then we always talked about having our own business and doing this for ourselves,” Ledezma said. “We went on and got our masters’ and after that we kind of went our separate ways. Then my wife and I were expecting a child and wanting to move back to Minnesota. We wanted to start a business, and here we are.”
Their company’s name, In Situ, comes from the importance for archaeologists of carefully excavating in a manner that enables them to recover artifacts “in situ,” which means in the original place they were deposited. It is critical to interpreting artifacts and the culture that created them.

Work requires a ‘deft touch and a passion for telling stories’

Four people in green vests and helmets in a dig site.Most of In Situ’s archaeology business comes from large-scale construction projects like the SWLRT, but they have also worked on cell towers and pipelines. Federal and state regulations are strict when it comes to preserving cultural history that may be impacted by these types of projects. Kelcie Campbell, SWLRT environmental project manager, explained how the work In Situ does helps the project and helps us understand our history a little better.

“This sort of work requires a deft touch and a passion for telling stories that have not been told," Campbell said. "In Situ brought the experience required to help preserve the cultural heritage of a neighborhood and to make sure that those stories are not lost."
Not many companies do the work that In Situ performs. In Situ is uniquely positioned in the market, not only because of their expertise but because of their designation as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE). Ledezma was born in Mexico and came to the United States when he was a year old, arriving in Texas and then eventually settling down in Morton, Minn. Co-owner Daniel Salas is also Hispanic.

DBE program helps minority- and women-owned businesses get a foot in the door

The U.S Department of Transportation created the DBE program to help minority- and women-owned businesses work on transportation-related projects, including the Metropolitan Council’s transit projects. Requirements for participating in the DBE program include limits on personal net worth (less than $1.32 million). Also, participating firms need to meet Small Business Administration size standards as measured by annual gross receipts. Those standards vary by industry. Ownership must also be at least 51 percent female or persons of color.

Like many companies with the DBE designation, In Situ would rather be known for the high-quality work they perform, but Ledezma acknowledges the designation does give them an advantage in a highly competitive arena.

“It’s helped us a handful times, and it does help for people trying to get more minority-owned business out there. In our field, there are a handful of companies in Minnesota that do our work, so for us it helps, because there’s so few of us to stand apart,” he said.
The archaeological fieldwork wrapped at the end of June 2018. Artifacts recovered from the site near the planned Royalston Avenue/ Farmers Market Station will be cataloged and stored at the Minnesota Historical Society. Interpretive panels at the future LRT station will tell the story of the former neighborhood’s residents for future light rail riders.

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