Empresas Díaz Inc./ BetteRoads Asphalt Corp.

Arturo Díaz Jr., founded his first company in Puerto Rico more than 70 years ago. Since then, he has built one of the Caribbean’s biggest construction conglomerates, a family-run business anchored by a major asphalt company that has become an industry leader in the region. Empresas Díaz has divisions that operate in construction, infrastructure and project development. Its current portfolio includes construction of the Trump International Residences & Golf Club at Coco Beach resort in Río Grande, Puerto Rico.

The $600 million, three-year joint project with the Trump Organ­i­zation broke ground in 2008 and includes luxury dwellings, a 486-room Gran Meliá Hotel and two golf courses, one of which is the site of the Puerto Rico Open, the PGA’s only tournament in the Caribbean.

Díaz bought the Coco Beach property in 1959, and developing it has been a lifelong goal, says his son, Jorge, who serves as Empresas Díaz’s executive vice president. “We’re currently developing the Trump brand villas and housing, and we’re well on our way,” Jorge Díaz says. “The resort’s infrastructure has been completely built already.”

Thinking big always has been an important element of Empresas Díaz’s business model and ultimately a key factor in its success. One of its cornerstone divisions, BetteRoads Asphalt Corp., is the Caribbean’s largest asphalt company. Arturo Díaz Jr., also founded Puerto Rico’s biggest ready-mix cement operation, which was sold in 1990.

Today, BetteRoads Asphalt Corp. operates 15 plants – 13 in Puerto Rico, one in St. Thomas and another in St. Croix.

“We’ve been all over the Caribbean,” Jorge Díaz says. “We did two asphalt projects in Guantanamo Bay (Cuba), we were in Granada after the (U.S.) invasion and we built the original airport in St. Martin. We’ve been in every aspect of construction you can think of.”

Connecting people

Throughout the years, Empresas Díaz has strived to bring people together through infrastructure projects like roadways and bridges. Some projects proved challenging, like operating in Guantanamo Bay during the height of the Cold War. Logistics were complicated, and it was difficult to find qualified workers who would stay in the isolated region for weeks at a time. Each challenge helped make Empresas Díaz better.

“My father’s vision was to build a conglomerate of construction companies,” Jorge Díaz notes. “But history proved that even though we were successful with our cement plant, asphalt company and in roadway construction, it’s difficult to have all of these at the same time because of competition.

“Competition means that if you’re going to be a contractor, you’ll be competing against other contractors for the roads,” he adds. “So you can’t be a contractor at the same time as you’re selling competitors asphalt.”

Empresas Díaz eventually sold its successful cement operation to focus on its asphalt company, which relies heavily on government contracts; about 90 percent of contracts are with government agencies and 10 percent are in the private sector. When government funding is re­duced, the company is versatile enough to re­act quickly by adjusting the number of operating asphalt plants and reducing the workforce.

“We are able to reduce our workforce in direct relation to how much asphalt the government is going to be laying down,” Díaz explains. “We can close plants. We can use them occasionally to keep them in shape when we have jobs. That’s how we operate and it’s really our only choice.”

When there are enough contracts to operate at full pace, BetteRoads Asphalt Corp. employs about 600 workers. Today the company has about half as many active employees, but they will be rehired as new contracts come in, partic­ularly during political election cycles, Díaz said.

In the meantime, the company has been focusing on its boosted recycling efforts, a strategy it hopes will lead to long-term growth. Used automobile oil is mixed with kerosene instead of diesel to fire burners that produce the asphalt. Roadway asphalt is milled and scraped, and then taken to company plants and completely recycled back into the asphalt mix that paves other roads.

And as long as people drive cars, BetteRoads Asphalt Corp. expects to be in business.

“Roads have to be paved and repaved,” Díaz says. “Nobody’s going to stop that. As long as tires meet the road, we’re going to keep repaving the roads.”

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