By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — Rafael D. Guzman says he is an immigrant who has fulfilled the American dream.
Guzman came to Lawrence from the Dominican Republic at age 15 in 1981, and after graduating from Lawrence High School, he earned a degree in electrical and computer engineering with high honors from University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Today, he owns two commercial buildings and has renovated 225 Essex St., the former WCCM radio station building on Franklin St. and the former Arlington Mill.
On May 8, Guzman received the 2013 Immigrant Entrepreneur Award for Business Growth from The Immigrant Learning Center Inc. Massachusetts State Treasurer Steve Grossman was the keynote speaker at the awards ceremony.
“What a beautiful country we live in,” Guzman said in his acceptance speech during the dinner at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge. “Not only does one get a real opportunity to succeed, but you can also get an award for your success.”
He was one of three local business people nominated. Maria Rosa owner of Yeska Cakes in Lawrence was nominated for Outstanding Neighborhood Business award and Yang Zhao, originally from China, was nominated for Outstanding Science/Technology Business award.
This is the second time a Lawrencian has received the award. Last year’s winner was Julia Silverio, owner of Julia’s Insurance and Silverio Insurance.
Guzman was flanked by his parents, Rafael and Luz; sons, Rafael, Benny and Javier and several of his staff members.
The youngest Rafael Guzman said he was impressed by his father’s speech.
”It touched me when he spoke about passing on education to better your future. My dad taught me that with hard work, perseverance and belief in yourself, anything is possible,” Guzman, 21, said.
Guzman purchased Malden Mills at 530 Broadway last December for $950,000 in partnership with the Lawrence Training School, which provides education for those seeking employment opportunities. Guzman and the training school spent $600,000 renovating the first two floors of the building. Now known as the Arlington Mills Plaza, it features two acres of land and 50,000 square feet. The building houses 11 small businesses.
He is president and chief executive officer of RM Technologies, a specialty construction company that handles demolition and environmental remediation. Last year, the company’s revenues were more than $7 million, with an expanding portfolio and a staff of 200 people, he said.
He took post-graduate classes in manufacturing engineering at Boston University. After years working at the former Honeywell, Guzman decided to become his own boss in the pursuit of financial independence.
Guzman, 46, started Flexible Workforce, an environmental temporary employment agency in 1994. One of its clients was RM Technologies and its owner wanted to sell the company. Guzman jumped at the chance and buy it.
”I’m glad I did because since then the company has grown and I’ve been able to acquire other financial interests all related to general contracting and I’ve been able to help others get jobs,” he said.
Guzman credits much of his success to his parents. In their native country, his father, also named Rafael, was a taxi driver and his mother, Chichi, raised their seven children. In Lawrence the oldest Guzman worked at Grieco Brothers and his mother at Oomphies Shoes. They were later both employed at Gillette in Andover, before they retired.
”I was also persistent, worked hard and had the drive to do better to achieve my goal of financial independence,” Guzman said. “I did not want to worry where the money to pay bills would come from and I wanted to provide my children with things I was not able to get at that age.”
After college, Guzman said, there was no place he wanted to work and invest in but Lawrence.
”I wanted to be an example for others to follow. I wanted to prove that you can make it in Lawrence,” Guzman said.
“Lawrence is a city full of great people and being so small you know everyone and feel like you’re part of the family anywhere you go,” he said.
”So you see the American dream is alive,” Guzman said. “It’s here for us to reach in this great nation. Education is at its center and I couldn’t stress more how important it is for all of us to educate others and ourselves so we can build healthier and stronger communities all throughout the country.”
Guzman said it’s important to give back to the community from which he has received. Last year, he established the RM Technology Scholarship for $5,000 at his alma mater to help aspiring engineers with their education.
Coincidentally, the first winner was Erick Aponte of Lawrence.
Locally, he supports such organizations as Delamano, the Lawrence Book Fair and the Granite State Baseball League for men over 30. Guzman plays on the Lawrence Pirates team which have won the championship the past two years. In addition to helping community organizations, he’s also involved in politics, supporting State Rep. Marcos Devers in his run for mayor.