Entrepreneurs Raised in Mexico Give Back through Business Training

Although Ruben Ramos was born in the United States, his family returned to their village in the Sierra Madre Mountains, in Mexico, when he was a baby. When they moved back to the States—to Chicago then Grand Rapids—Ramos was 10 years old and didn’t know a word of English. “I consider myself an immigrant, because I basically had to learn the language, had to learn the culture.”

In 1990, when his father got a job offer in Grand Rapids, “the Hispanic population here was basically nonexistent,” he says. “I really felt those days like an outsider. I couldn’t really hold a conversation with the kids at school.” For the first year, he and his two brothers largely kept to themselves.

Today Ramos has little trace of an accent and, with his brother, runs a business that is training and hiring dozens of tradespeople in Grand Rapids. R & R Mechanical Services, which installs and services heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in residential and commercial buildings, will expand its sales force this summer and move into a new, larger building in Cottage Grove.

“We’ve built some of these awesome tradesmen. It has cost us more to do that. It takes years of training. But we’re proud to say that that’s something that we’re doing to develop our community.”

Ramos’ twin brother, who studied HVAC in trade school, had opened a shop in 2008, and invited his brother to join him in 2010. They had four employees. Today they have 30, all full time with benefits.

“There hasn’t been a year that we haven’t grown,” says Ramos. It has not been easy. Ramos, who studied computer electronics, had no business experience. The recession hit, halting new construction. And qualified applicants in the trades were, and continue to be, in short supply.

“We were really learning on the go,” he says. Trial and error and the use of outside consultants got them through the business management. Adding commercial construction got them through the recession. And creating extensive on-the-job training got them a workforce—and allows them to give back.

“We’ve built some of these awesome tradesmen,” says Ramos. “It has cost us more to do that. It takes years of training. But we’re proud to say that that’s something that we’re doing to develop our community.”

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