News Column

Public Works Powerhouse

June 2004, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Scott Williams

Juan Gutierrez
Juan Gutierrez

After years of working for others in the construction industry, Juan A. Gutierrez decided to start his own company. When he couldn't find funding because he had no assets to use as collateral, he moved ahead with another dream: building a house. During that process, he became acquainted with the builder, who was interested in investing in a heavy-construction business. In 1977, they created a partnership, and Mr. Gutierrez who at age 13 in 1962 immigrated to the United States from Cuba realized his dream of owning a business.

Mr. Gutierrez bought out his partner only nine months into the venture, and his company has since completed more than $350 million in public and private heavy-construction projects, building sewer systems, water treatment and purification plants, utility tunnels, water pipelines, storm drains, rail facilities, train stations, train yards, and bridges. Success has propelled Northeast Remsco Construction to No. 74 on the Hispanic Business 500, with $70 million in annual revenues.

The early years were rough. But in 1985, the economy started to take off and more public works projects became available. Still, Mr. Gutierrez says, his company grew slowly, in part because he refused to take on debt.

"As more work came around, the jobs were more profitable and the company was able to retain earnings and so our bonding grew," he says. "I have control of my company, but I have parameters to go by that are set by the bonding company."

Mr. Gutierrez remembers the days when he had to plead for a $250,000 bond. Today, with a current bond capacity of around $200 million, his company can take on a $30 million construction project with no trouble. "We're on easy street now," he says.

By hiring more experienced and qualified people over the years, Mr. Gutierrez met the challenge of growth. And in 1995, he bought another company that specialized in building water treatment plants. Around the same time, Northeast Remsco began renting equipment and bidding on tunneling projects particularly micro-tunneling, which allows pipes to be laid under streets without tearing out pavement.

Mr. Gutierrez recently increased his company's range of operations by purchasing Coldwell Marine to lay underwater cables, gas lines, and oil lines. Still, he says, micro-tunneling is the wave of the future, along with reconstructing aging subway and train systems, and redeveloping waterfronts.

In recent years, the booming single-family housing market has propelled a surge in business for the construction industry, and experts say that is expected to continue. McGraw-Hill Construction, a division of The McGraw-Hill Cos., reports that total construction for the first three months of 2004 is up 7 percent, compared with a year ago, with an 18 percent increase in residential building offsetting drops in both non-residential and non-building construction. The National Association of Home Builders also notes that the housing market for the elderly is booming. There currently are 63 million Americans 55 and older; by 2012, that is expected to reach nearly 67 million.

Much of the construction work appears to be regionalized. Total construction figures for the first three months of 2004 show an increase in South Atlantic construction (up 18 percent), followed by the Midwest (up 7 percent), the South Central (up 5 percent), and the Northeast (up 4 percent). Total construction stood unchanged in the West.

For now, Mr. Gutierrez' sights are set on Northeast Remsco reaching $100 million in annual revenues. "At that point," he says, "my sons will be able to take it over, and I can go play golf."


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