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A Prodigal Entrepreneur Returns
Todd G. Dickson
Copyright 2001 Sun-News
January 23, 2001

At 61, Tony Ruiz isn't afraid to describe himself as a "crazy inventor-builder."

Finding different or better ways of building things is natural to the Las Cruces High School graduate -- from the original building that's now a judicial complex, that is.

The son of a plumbing contractor, Ruiz said he often spent his time as a young man drawing pictures, which led to an interest in drafting and designing buildings as early as 13.

That eventually led him to quitting school in his senior year and taking off to California where he bluffed his way into a good-paying drafting job in Beverly Hills.

"They asked me if I had ever designed a five-story building before," Ruiz said. "I told them 'That's all we do in Las Cruces.' ... Eventually, the engineer said to me 'You've never done this before, have you son?' Well, he took me through it and that building is still standing."

Ruiz did eventually return to Las Cruces to get his high school diploma in 1958. He was going to continue studying drafting, but was impatient to work in the real world and jumped at the chance to work for Frank Lloyd Wright in Arizona.

That led to a job as a draftsman for a California company that made premanufactured "folding" houses. Ruiz adapted the idea to mobile homes, only to have a manufacturer steal his idea after telling him it was too expensive.

The same would happen with an idea he had for transporting wide mobile homes by cutting them in half. "Of course, now you see them all the time on road," Ruiz says with a laugh.

Over the years, Ruiz would work as a building inspector, a contractor, a custom home designer and a project engineer.

Meanwhile, his curiosity and observations would lead him to create a building system using metal studs imbedded into concrete to form panels for construction that were stronger-but-lighter than solid concrete.

"Have you seen how concrete sticks to metal?" he explains. "It's one of those deals where the sum is greater than the parts."

Ruiz' first attempt to make money with the system ended in a double-cross by his business partner, who patented the idea behind his back.

Ruiz came back by refining the system to gain his own patent and form a company called Simple Building Systems. Though only a year old, Ruiz has been able to showcase his new system by building missionary housing in Turkey after a devastating earthquake.

"The new system is practically earthquake proof," Ruiz said. "We built two school buildings in 13 days."

Last month, Ruiz returned once again to Las Cruces to pursue opportunities for his building system. One is building low-income housing in Anthony, the other is affordable housing in Mexico.

Mexican President Vicente Fox has made affordable and decent housing a priority for his administration, Ruiz said. Currently, Mexico buys used garage doors to build shelters, which Ruiz says his system can make for roughly the same cost of $400 to $500 a shelter.

With these opportunities on the horizon, the California-based Ruiz will be coming home to Las Cruces more frequently. He is even considering opening a precast plant in the Las Cruces area sometime this year.


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