Rebuilding a new Haiti from its ashes

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • October 1, 2012 4:04 PM EDT

Haiti is rebuilding slowly but surely. Besides foreign hotels being built across the country, in the Delmas area of Port-au-Prince, you can see the construction site for Genesis, one of the most ambitious construction projects in Haiti today. A 15-20 million dollar investment, Genesis is a symbol of Haitian resilience and desire to moving forward, but also a smart investment in a market that desperately needs construction solutions.

Conceived and envisioned by the Figaro brothers, owners of commercial/industrial general contractor company ARCOTEC, Genesis stands on the same site where two years ago a 5-story building built in the '70s by their father, Gerard Figaro, used to stand. The 40-year-old building, which the brothers called, "our flagship", collapsed during the earthquake as did many others, but inspired the ambition to build something even bigger.

Continuing father's dream

Patrick Figaro founded ARCOTEC, the builder/contractor of Genesis, in 1994 when he returned to Haiti after finishing his studies in Civil Engineering and Architecture in the US. This venture is a continuation of his father's legacy. He owned a real estate development company himself before retiring in 1986. Now, all three Figaro brothers, Patrick, Rudy and Gregory, who received their education in the US, are involved in running this company. 100% Haitian owned, operated, and financed, ARCOTEC is also one of the few companies in Haiti that have the capacity to build large projects.

Greg was the last one of the Figaro brothers to join the company full time two years ago. He realized that his management skills would be more valuable in Haiti than in the US, where he used to run his own business.

"I felt that with my background and the kind of work that I do - I'm a senior administrator - any kind of management expertise I could bring to a company in Haiti would have an effect that is tenfold or a hundred fold of the effect that it would have here in the US," shares Greg Figaro, Executive Chairman of the Company.

The Earthquake was just another beginning

During the 2010 earthquake none of the buildings ARCOTEC built have collapsed. However, their flagship building built by their father in the '70s did not resist the calamity. Seeing the country devastated, losing friends and family members, and participating in the recovery process was a painful experience for the Figaro brothers and their company.

"Immediately after the earthquake we shifted from construction to really recovery, and that was a very taxing and emotionally draining experience,” says Greg Figaro.

To overcome what they had experienced, the Figaro brothers decided to build something even bigger on the ruins of the building they lost.

"We said: well, my father built something that was big already and very impressive that really helped improve Haiti's image 40 years ago, now we are going to try to do the same thing my father did, but with an even bigger impact," shares Greg.

After long months of conversations and debates, the idea of Genesis was conceived. Now in construction, Genesis is going to be a 10-story building with over 100,000 square feet of commercial space for rent. It will include underground parking, extended-stay hotel, and rooftop café with garden and patio.

"That is a direct result of the experience of going through the earthquake, going through the emotional process of realizing what we went through, and emerging with bigger goals, both on the personal and company level," says Greg.

Solving puzzles is the key

Over the years ARCOTEC has built industrial, healthcare, government, academic, and commercial structures. Because of the size of its projects, finding a way to smoothen complex operations in Haiti is a mind-breaker.
ARCOTEC has invested millions of dollars in its heavy construction equipment.

However, Greg says that the biggest challenge for his company is the lack of readily available resources: human resources, services, companies that they could contract with, construction materials, etc.

They partially solved this problem by setting up a Division in Miami, which is an employment and resource management agency that helps to import the products, services, and skills necessary for their complex operations. ARCOTEC partners with companies from the US, Europe, and other parts of the world to complement the skills that they may be lacking. Greg shares that they keep strong ties with the Haitian Diaspora and hire even when they don't have available positions.

"Expert engineers, trade workers such as plumbers and carpenters; equipment, and all the system that should be in place to supply this chain of resources, that in Haiti is very broken," says Greg.

He notes that because so many resources need to be imported, the cost of building in Haiti is as high as it would be in Miami, for example. 

The way Haiti is still perceived by the international community as a high-risk zone makes foreign contractors charge more for their services, which is another factor that increases the construction cost.

Founders of ARCOTEC, which now has about 500 employees, strive to use the resources available in Haiti as much as possible to support more the local economy and to decrease costs.

The Vision for Haiti

The Figaro brothers would like to see the Haitian construction industry, from the lowest-level to the highest-level worker, be reconnected to the global construction industry.

Another vision and goal that Greg Figaro envisions for Haiti is to see Haiti's skyline change.

"I would like to see the landscape and the skyline of Haiti change. By that, I do not mean that I want to see skyscrapers all over Haiti; this is not the kind of country that we have, but to to have dwellings and spaces for businesses and hotels that are on par of what you find in any developing country, and where people can feel that they have a certain level of trust and comfort being in that environment as a result of the work that the construction industry has done. That's a vision of mine. How do we achieve it? I don't know any other way except than to tackle one project at a time,“ shares Greg Figaro.

He also thinks that there is not enough emphasis on the need for developing the infrastructure, such as roads, water supply, public transportation, power generation and distribution, etc.

"I think that once we as a nation start to tackle the need to have proper infrastructure, then we will really have the country that we want."

In the meantime, the Figaro brothers are working on accomplishing their personal vision and goals. Genesis is half-way built and is expected to be ready by June 2013 for tenants to start moving into this modern facility, built on the site destroyed by natural disaster.