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Jose Santana, entrepreneur

Jose Antonio Santana, a pioneer in Puerto Rico's airport services and the founder of Empresas Santana, died Sunday after a long illness. He was 72.

The announcement was made by the company's president, Jose Algarin.

Santana founded Airport Aviation Services Inc. and six affiliates that provide ground services to airlines operating out of Luis Munoz Marin International Airport.

The companies represent a $50-million capital investment in the local economy and employ 2,000 people with an annual payroll of $23-million, according to a statement issued by Airport Aviation Services.

Empresas Santana also owns the Travelodge Hotel, the local franchise of Country Kitchen restaurants and the Tropimar Convention Center in Isla Verde.

"The strength that these companies enjoy today is a tribute to the persistence and entrepreneurial genius of "Don Tony,' " Algarin said. "His parting is a terrible loss."

Santana's interest in airport services dates to 1946 and the old Isla Grande airport, where he worked first for a commuter airline, Caribair, and later for West Indies Airways, which he helped organize.

Santana is survived by his wife of 49 years, Margie de la Rosa; their sons Jose, a physician, Willie, an attorney, and Edwin, a businessman.