CRB Caribe LLP
There’s big industry on the small island of Puerto Rico and CRB Caribe LLP (CRB), a full-service architectural design and engineering firm, has been supporting it since 2004. According to the Pharmaceutical Industry Association of Puerto Rico (PIA), as of 2012, the pharmaceutical industry generates approximately 18,000 direct jobs on the island nation, representing 26 percent of Puerto Rico’s total employment in manufacturing.
The industry also provides a major market for other island economies, small businesses and professional organizations that provide a range of goods from manufacturing components to food services, transportation and tourism, among others. In terms of employment, the sector’s activity generates over 68,000 indirect jobs for the rest of the economy.
“CRB is one of the largest engineering and architecture firms serving the biopharmaceutical sector in Puerto Rico,” reveals Tom Forester, LEED AP and general manager of CRB. “We do manufacturing and other things but we’re primarily involved with biopharmaceutical work. CRB has all disciplines in-house, including mechanical, electrical, civil structural, process and architectural design, construction support construction inspection and permitting services. We’re there throughout a project’s full life span.”
A local partnership
Since 2004, when Forester and his partner, Gary Reichelt, founded CRB, the firm’s full-service, all inclusive approach has attracted some of the biggest names in the biopharmaceutical industry. “I lived in Puerto Rico for 20 years prior to starting CRB,” recalls Forester. “I was managing another company that teamed up with CRB Engineers, a global design, construction management and consulting firm that serves advanced technology industries. I became familiar with CRB on the project and decided to join forces with CRB Engineers and Reichelt and start the office to form a local partnership.”
Based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, CRB is now a local partnership registered in Puerto Rico with business ties to global CRB Engineers. “We have 12 partners, including three CRB Engineers partners that are licensed to practice engineering in Puerto Rico, and 60 employees now, but I started alone with my small brief case, looking for an office space,” recounts Forester.
While CRB has offices all over the U.S., CRB has grown by leaps and bounds in the Puerto Rico market, serving massive pharmaceutical companies on the island and into other parts of Latin America. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve invested a great deal back into the company,” notes Forester, “Into hardware, software and training and we work very hard to handpick the best professionals to match our growth. We look for repeat business relationships, rather than hit and run kind of jobs. We are very good at using and following client standards and also in using and following all of the current CRB Engineer standards, as well.”
A boom or bust industry
As a single-source solution for engineering, architecture, construction inspection and support and permitting, CRB has grown to serve pharmaceutical, biotech and industrial clients. “Regardless of the size or type of project, CRB works as a team with the owner, contractors, suppliers and construction managers to make the project a success,” adds Forester. “We’ve established a culture of integrity, loyalty, determination, enthusiasm and dedication to client satisfaction.”
CRB’s reputation has allowed the company to prevail in a market that for years was rapidly growing, but now slowly depleting. “In the 1950s the U.S. and Puerto Rican government started to try to develop Puerto Rico’s economy,” recalls Forester. “Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, the federal government had an interest in promoting growth and began giving special tax incentives to companies willing to move their manufacturing operations here.”
Forester goes on to note that the island was very poor in the 1930s and 1940s, until the U.S. and local governments started the incentive program. “From 1954 to 1964 Puerto Rico exploded with economic growth with 300 new factories,” he continues. “Unfortunately, the federal government put expiration on the section 936 tax incentives in 1995 that ended in 2005. Up until the 1990s, everything was booming, but it started to shrink after 2006.”
According to PIA, the pharmaceutical industry still represents approximately 57 percent of all exported commodities in Puerto Rico, but more and more companies are finding it too costly to keep the doors open. “No one will put a factory here unless there’s a real advantage in cost,” explains Forester. “Shipping off the island is expensive so you can’t tax a company here like you would in the U.S.”
Despite the pinch on the pharmaceutical industry, Forester says CRB remains a strong player in what remains. “We’re one of the strongest offices on the island and most of that is thanks to our people and technology,” he notes. “We complete full 3-D rivet designs, as well as structural and seismic analysis. Our technology is strong so every time the market shrinks, we get a bigger share and we’re bumping out other people. We’ve prevailed thanks to repeat business and we’re going overseas for work throughout the Caribbean and into Mexico and Central America to be geographically diversified.”
According to Forester, the company’s best local market remains in the private sector in biopharmaceuticals. “I think there’s still quite a bit of work in the next few years, but it’s going to tapper down if the federal government doesn’t help sustain the economy,” he continues.
Forester says he takes great pride in furthering the island’s economy. “We’re proud to deliver projects that are helping to employ thousands of Puerto Ricans,” he shares. After 10 years, CRB Caribe LLP continues to be the island’s trusted single-source solution for full engineering and architectural design, permitting, contrition inspection and construction support services.
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