Bird Group LLC
For the past nearly fifty years, the name of the Bird Group has been linked to almost all major construction projects in Puerto Rico, and the company is now run by the third generation of professionals raised within the company in an almost familial way, in which not only knowledge and experience, but also a sense of the ultimate vision and values of the company are passed down the generations. In fact, according to company President Eduardo Pardo, the historic successes of the company and its reputation within the industry are largely due to the trust it has deposited in its employees, imparting a high standard of quality in the work they do, and an ethics of perseverance and of the value of accumulated experience. “We are the third generation”, adds Mr. Pardo, “and we like this dynamic of passing on our professional culture to our employees, of educating them and inspiring them about our mission and vision”.
With such a long trajectory in the industry, the company naturally has had to face ups and downs, and has had to adapt to changing circumstances both in the country’s economy and in the construction sector in particular. Showing tremendous growth during the nineties, the company reached its peak around the year 2007, when construction was at its most robust in the island and the boom in demand had taken prices to levels similar to those of cities like Miami. “Projects would normally surpass USD 20 million”, remembers Mr. Pardo, “and now landing a USD 10 million project is a considerable challenge”. In fact, economic recession in 2008, both in Puerto Rico and in the US, had a strong impact on the pace and dimension of construction projects, and posed a serious threat even to the most established companies. The company, nevertheless, reacted quickly and intelligently, and undergoing a major restructuring in 2011, whereby the owners of Brid Construction passed on the baton to the third generation, and drastic changes were made in the workforce and the administration of capital. “That is when we became Bird Group LLC, with the same workers and a smaller, more flexible structure, designed to adapt to the conditions of the business at the time”, explains Mr. Pardo. “In this way we managed to adapt swiftly to the new economy, and that is what propelled us to success”.
Accordingly, the company managed to achieve positive growth even in the hardest years of the recession, and has kept engaging in large-scale projects in the island, such as the Mall of San Juan, the Ciudadela project in Santurce and the construction of the Vanderbilt Hotel. “Our clients are very loyal to us”, explains Mr. Pardo, “and for us that is the most meaningful of rewards”. The construction of the Mall of San Juan, in fact, was a joint venture with a company from Pittsburg called DCK, with which the Group had worked as construction managers in the eighties and nineties on three different projects –the building of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the building of the State Insurance Fund, today the Department of Natural Resources and Solid Waste, and Ponce Prison. The company had come looking for a partner for the project, and in the Group found the combination of know-how and reputation they were seeking.
Today the Bird Group offers comprehensive services to its clients, either commercial, residential or of hospitality, and work alongside them from the start on the pre- construction phase, which consists in costs analysis and planning. “The earlier we start taking part in the studies the better”, explains Mr. Pardo, “because we can work with the architects verifying construction systems, materials and time, and we can develop a solid plan for coordinating the project with the projected investment”. Subsequently, the Group takes charge of the construction phase, for which it engages its employees and any sub-contractors necessary. Since the implementation of Acts 20 and 22, encouraging foreign investment in the island, the Group has had the opportunity to collaborate with many American investors, such as Putnam Bridge and John Paulson, on large-scale projects such as the Ciudadela, an ambitious project to revive one of San Juan’s historic neighborhoods, and the construction of the Vanderbilt Hotel, respectively. Regarding the development of touristic projects, nevertheless, uncertainty regarding the new government and the Financial Oversight Board has kept many planned projects from materializing, but overall, according to Mr. Pardo, Foreign investment has greatly benefitted the economy. “In Puerto Rico investment or financing from banks has been very moderate, and that had slowed down investments”, he explains.
Accordingly, the Group has plans underway to expand its operations to Florida, where they are already legally established and are looking into projects. As a completely new market for the Group, the step has required careful preparation, but it is planned to take place no later than early 2018. “It’s not an easy move to make, but we have the fortune of having clients who work in both Puerto Rico and Florida and who want us to carry out their projects in Florida as well”, explains Mr. Pardo. “It is collaborations like these that have pulled us through the difficult economic situation in Puerto Rico, and that have allowed us to export our services”. In fact, it was tougher competition forced the Group to become all the more efficient and to prepare it further for taking their services to new markets and frontiers. For this reason, after entering the US through Florida, the Group is serious about the possibility of expanding further into the mainland, and also into Central and South America, where current development is creating great opportunities for business.
“I believe in making cities attractive for people to live in”
In support of this ambitious strategy, the Group is working on a more aggressive communication campaign, involving a new website, a strong presence in social media, and greater degree of exposure in specialized publications such as Caribbean Business magazine, where they are currently advertising. “We decided to leave behind the myth that marketing is unnecessary when clients just come to you”, explains Mr. Pardo, “we decided to change that mentality and instead to make sure people know about our services, our experience and our achievements”. With the latter, Mr. Pardo is referring, among others, to the award recently received by the Group for the Mall of San Juan, publicized in the aforementioned magazine and indeed the highest recognition in the construction industry.
Overall, Mr. Pardo believes that the Group, as well as so many other companies in the construction industry, have greatly benefitted from a competitive but thriving private sector, and has reached the standards of excellence that have allowed it to succeed abroad as well. With the added positive influence of foreign investments, Mr. Pardo is convinced that Puerto Rico has great potential for growth and for improvement, and that the road ahead is brimming with opportunity. “We have outstanding human resources, and an educated, humble, bilingual and highly- qualified population”, concludes Mr. Pardo with a smile, “and frankly I understand why so many people are enchanted when they come, and then decide to stay; Puerto Rico is a paradise”.
Christiansen Commercial Real Estate
Real estate savvy runs in the family and fo Ryan Christiansen, he has been familiar to the inner workings of the business from a very early age. After working in Chicago, he decided to leave for Puerto Rico in 2004, and to put his knowledge to the task of creating a real estate venture of his own. Only eight years later, he founded Christiansen Commercial, today among the most reputed real estate agencies in the island. “I have seen Puerto Rico at a time of tremendous economic growth”, he remembers, “and although we are still fighting our way out of a tough recession, there are many positive indicators that our sector is on the path of recovery”.
One of the keys to the agency’s surprising success is its ability to adapt and evolve according not only to the changing interests of clients, but to the opportunities presented by new legislation. In fact, before Puerto Rico implemented Acts 20 and 22 to foster foreign investment, Mr. Christiansen had already set a strategy in motion to use take the opportunity by the horns and use it to the advantage of his clients. “These incentives have created different opportunities across multiple sectors at different times”, he explains, “and essentially we have been able to mold along the way”.
And it has been no minor challenge; a wave of fiscal problems in the public sector mainly due to uncertainty regarding local and US presidential elections in 2016, combined with the explosion of the Zika virus which greatly affected travel to the island, and the interruption of a large- scale pipeline project that had already been executed, many companies faced a very difficult year. Nevertheless, the agency managed to push through thanks to deals and transactions already set in motion since 2014, and to reach the beginning of 2017 in good shape, when thanks to the implementation of the PROMESA law by the Obama administration, the door was opened for a great deal of international groups from China, Ukraine, Russia, Israel and Latin America to carry out projects in the island, bringing with them a great deal of investor confidence. “You are now not only seeing US companies”, Mr. Christiansen explains, “but international players that identify Puerto Rico not only as a beautiful island with the infrastructure and the flag of the US, but also a great opportunity for investment”.
And with investors, come new ideas, new strategies and fresh capital, and thus the possibility for companies such as Christiansen Commercial to grow. In fact, the company has been actively seeking alliances and synergies with firms in order to promote Puerto Rico and pitch it to new clients, and with the support provided by a government that has seen to the continuation and development of investing incentives, the company has been able to make the most of this new wave of change in Puerto Rico. “We are huge promoters of driving interest to invest in Puerto Rico”, explains Mr. Christiansen, “our mentality is that 1% and something is always better than 0% and nothing”.
Such a drive would nevertheless be incomplete without a proper communication strategy that allows the company to spread the word about the possibilities provided by the incentives. In fact, Mr. Christiansen now spends a significant amount of time travelling and meeting people outside Puerto Rico to present them with opportunities that many have a hard time believing at first.
For this reason, he is also on the board of Puerto Rico is the Answer, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the incentives, offering a unified database of all sector service providers so that potential investors can get a complete view of the details of a specific venture. For this reason, whether during trips, business meetings, online programs and international conferences, Mr. Christiansen is constantly inviting people to get on a plane and come to Puerto Rico to assess the opportunities for themselves. “The key is to come here, make your own relationships and high-level assumptions, and develop that necessary sixth sense”, concludes Mr. Christiansen with great passion. “Once you do that, there is no doubt in my mind that you will invest in Puerto Rico”.