Servio Arias arrived in the U.S. for the first time as a teen with potential after the New York Yankees signed him as a 16-year-old catcher.
He spent a season playing professionally in his native Venezuela, then in the Dominican Republic’s highly competitive winter league, before getting the call to join the Yankees’ Rookie League team in Tampa.
The dream to play in the Major Leagues soon fizzled out, even after stints with two other professional organizations. But instead of returning home, a new dream was born.
“Life wasn’t easy for me at that time. I was working in Miami, getting paid $5.25 an hour,” he said. “To be honest, it wasn’t a good job, but it was a start. I knew I wanted to stay in this country, where everything was so organized and opportunity was around every corner. I had to keep going, no matter the obstacles.”
The first job led to the next, which led to another and, eventually, a move to Middle Tennessee. He sold cars for a living, but realized, “I didn’t want to spend my life waiting for someone to walk through that door to make a sale.”
He managed to save money, intending to invest in a business, when serendipity arrived via I-24 in Murfreesboro. There was a fledgling granite company for sale. Arias knew nothing about the business, but everything about taking chances. Soon he was immersed in a new venture.
“I worked from 7 in the morning until 8 or 9 every evening. I did sales, measurements, installation and the accounting myself,” Arias said, adding with a chuckle. “Of course, I was single then. I had the time.”
Eventually, he bought his original partner out and began to grow the business, now known as Middle Tennessee Granite. There are currently two locations – Nashville and Murfreesboro – with an expansion to Madison, Alabama, in the works.
“When people talk about Middle Tennessee Granite, they know I stand behind what we produce, I warranty it, and our customers know they’ll get a quality product at a good price.”
The success of Middle Tennessee Granite has allowed Arias to invest in real estate, building custom-made homes, and rental properties, as well. To do that, he has depended on a strong banking relationship with Claudia Hile, manager of the Regions Bank Woodbine branch in Nashville.
“Servio is so full of energy, and always is so passionate on what he does” she said. “He always wants to grow and make something of himself. He was a small business in Murfreesboro when he decided to expand into the commercial side looking for bigger opportunities. That meant new machines to make these complex cuts to provide better quality to his customers.”
Growth meant expanding his relationship with his bank.
“Regions Bank has been very helpful, providing credit,” Arias said. “And Claudia has been a friend for years. When she moved to Regions, I moved all my accounts with her. She’s been really instrumental in our growth.”
Today, the bond goes beyond banking.
Hile was born in Mexico City before moving to Tennessee.
“This was the perfect spot for me,” she added. “When I arrived here 15 years ago, it was nowhere near as big as it is now. But, coming from Mexico City, Nashville offered the best of both worlds. It was relatively small and quiet, compared to Mexico City, but it offered everything you could want.”
Like Arias, she wanted to be more than a visitor.
That’s what took them both back to Murfreesboro a few years ago for swearing in ceremonies as U.S. citizens. “It was a beautiful day, but neither of us expected the other to be there that day. It made it even more special.”
For Arias, the moment was more bittersweet.
“I was happy, yet I was also sad,” Arias said. “Only because my new country offered opportunities that my original country couldn’t.”
As Middle Tennessee Granite continues to grow, Hile remains not only the company’s banker but Arias’ sounding board.
“He has a vision,” Hile said. “He’s always thinking, ‘What will I do next?’ He’ll come to me and we talk it out and figure out what can be done. He’s truly living the American dream.”
Twenty years after he first arrived in the U.S., now happily married and with a 2-year-old child, Arias shows no sign of slowing down.
“I know the American Dream is true, but I also know that you have to work for it,” Arias said. “This is the country of opportunity if you’re willing to put in the work.”