Since 1971, Constructora Argo Inc. (CAI) has been family-owned and –operated, serving and supporting the island economy in Puerto Rico with trusted urban development capabilities. The small island, which is actually home to big industry, has experienced significant economic growth in the pharmaceutical, electronics, textile, processed foods and petrochemical sectors in recent decades and CAI has been there every step of the way.
“For 43 years, we have given our clients excellence in the construction business market,” shares Luis R. Gómez-Salazar, founder and president of CAI. “We specialize in general demolition work, site development, concrete and masonry work and tile and paint.”
Building a better life
While CAI has been operating out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, for nearly four decades, Gómez-Salazar was not born and raised on the island. As a young man, Gómez-Salazar fled Fidel Castro’s communist regime in Cuba for the U.S. in 1964. “My father left Cuba, traveling through Mexico and ended up in Kentucky with his father-in-law Pedro Suarez-Solar,” recalls Luis R. Gómez Suarez-Solar, second-generation and lead engineer of CAI. “I was only 6 years old when we fled Cuba.”
Upon arriving in the U.S. the family struggled with the language barrier. “My father didn’t speak English and the cold weather was also unattractive, so we moved back to the Caribbean, to the island of Puerto Rico, in 1965,” recounts Gómez Suarez-Solar.
After Gómez-Salazar arrived in Puerto Rico, he started working on the maintenance crew at Berma Construction, where he started to learn the ins and outs of running a business. “He realized the possibility of creating his own business, so he started to purchase used heavy equipment,” recalls Gómez Suarez-Solar. “My father began to use the equipment and also rent it across the island.”
Thanks to the help of family and friends, Gómez-Salazar and his family were able to start a new life in Puerto Rico, continuing on the route to success since. “There are currently three family members working at CAI,” reveals Gómez Suarez-Solar. “My father, our founder and president, myself as lead engineer and my son, Luis R. Gómez-Guzmán, an engineering student.”
Today, CAI offers a broad scope of services, but the company started with just a few pieces of equipment, performing demolitions. “By 1987 we integrated and started building residential construction,” notes Gómez-Salazar. “In 1992, we started performing our own concrete, masonry, plaster and tile installations with an in-house team. Up to this day, performing our own work has been a great success.”
Diversify to survive
For 12 years, CAI built only private homes, but in 2008 when the recession hit home, the company had to move into the commercial and industrial sector. Although the island economy is long from full recovery, Gómez-Salazar says the company has had several sizable projects in the works.
“We’re participating in the construction of the new Veterans Hospital in San Juan,” shares Gómez-Salazar. “Another challenging job has been the $36 million Los Prados Urbanos in Caguas.”
CAI tackled the large scale private property by dividing the work into four phases, worth approximately $9 million each. “This project came at just the right moment for us,” details Gómez Suarez-Solar. “Overall, it was an incredible challenge in terms of the time factor and the standards of the owners but we accepted it and made a considerable profit.”
Part of the success of any of CAI’s jobs is the relationship with its suppliers. “We always work with the same suppliers because we’re looking for reliability and compliance,” adds Gómez Suarez-Solar.
Gómez Suarez-Solar admits the past few years have not been as smooth sailing as Puerto Rico’s big industry boom before the 1990s. “We knew how to take advantage of the good times the island had up until the 1990s,” he says. “In 2008, the construction market came down, but we’re hanging in there. The economic situation is getting better and we’ll be stronger in the future because of the difficult market.”
While the future is looking brighter in Puerto Rico, Gómez-Salazar says CAI continues to just focus on hard work and expanding into specialized service. “We have remained strong because we have minor debts,” he says. “We did have to take drastic measures and reduce our workforce by about 70 percent, but we had to maximize resources and adjust our budget in order to survive.”
Despite the recession, CAI has emerged as a stronger company, because as Gómez-Salazar knows all too well, out of adversity lies opportunity. After 43 years, Constructora Argo Inc. is still a Puerto Rican landmark, backed by family ownership and the notion that hard work equals reward in the future.
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