Odebrecht USA. Its a name that pops up on signs at construction sites all over South Florida and a company that has had a major role in public projects from American Airlines Arena and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts to the North and South Terminals at Miami International Airport.
Despite winning dozens of public contracts valued at more than $4 billion in Florida since working on its first local project, the Metromover, in 1991, Odebrecht USA has been able to maintain a fairly low profile until recently.
Because the construction company is so prolific in South Florida, many people have assumed it has local roots.
But Odebrecht USA is part of a Brazilian conglomerate that has become a global force with interests that now stretch well beyond Latin America where its the largest construction and engineering company in the region.
Part of the reason many people have been confused by Odebrechts origins is by design.
In every place we go, we become local, said Gilberto Neves, 53, president and chief executive of Odebrecht USA. A Brazilian from Minas Gerais who has worked for Odebrecht since 1983, Neves was one of the founders of the U.S. division. We send a small group from Brazil, and then we hire locally.
The companys strategy also includes subcontracting with local companies and it has shared work with more than 300 small businesses in the 23 years it has been in the United States, said company officials.
While Odebrecht is known as a construction company in South Florida, the Brazilian parent company has diversified far beyond that with interests in petrochemicals, sugar, ethanol and bioenergy, power generation, water and environmental engineering, oil and gas, plastics, transportation/logistics, and defense and technology.
It builds oil platforms, has developed a technique to make plastic from sugar cane, is a founding member of Brazils Green Building Council, and is a real estate developer in Brazil.
From a small family firm founded in Salvador, Bahia, by Norberto Odebrecht in 1944, Odebrecht S.A. has grown into a multinational with almost 200,000 employees. It is active in 25 countries, and its investment division expects to invest $25 billion around the world over the next three years. Company assets exceed $59 billion, and it is now ranked as the 13th-largest contractor in the world.
The holding companys projects now dot five continents, but it is the parent companys work in Cuba that has put Odebrecht USA in the hot seat just as it hoped to embark on one of its most ambitious local projects: Airport City.
The massive, $512 million project would sprawl over 33.5 acres just east of Miami International Airports terminals and parking garages and include a business park with restaurants, retail and office space, a four-star hotel with conference facilities, a convenience center that would include services such as a dry cleaner, pet hotel, market and gas station and a new MIA Mover station at the business park.
To realize the project, Odebrecht USA proposed a different business model: It would build Airport City on county land west of Le Jeune Road, get private financing, and then pay rent and a percentage of revenue to the county for 50 years. The airport would continue to own the land, and all the buildings would be titled to the airport.