Building with pride
Say the name Heavy North to someone in the construction industry in Alberta, and the many projects the company has built with such clients as TransCanada and Keyera comes to mind. But more than that, it’s the relationships nurtured, with both clients and the community, that earned Heavy North a reputation as a trusted and valued partner.
Fort McMurray Roots
By now, everyone knows what happened in Fort McMurray on May 5, 2016. The wildfire spread across a million and a half acres for two months, displacing a hundred thousand people for months. Heavy North was founded and based in Fort McMurray and many of the company’s staff and families lived in the community. Everyone made it out of town safely that day, but some lost their home. “I lost my home,” says Heavy North President and CEO Steve Bolen. “Our office manager lost her home but everybody from the area felt the pain of the fire.”
Amongst the chaos Heavy North took action. The team got heavily involved with the clean-up efforts, working directly for the municipality and private condo boards doing demolition to facilitate the rebuilding process. They also joined in the overwhelming support to help the community get back on its feet. “Heavy North has been a strong local supporter of this community,” Arianna Johnson, Executive Director of Wood Buffalo Food Bank Association, tells Business Elite Canada. “Their support of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank has been amazing. They were also the first to step up and support a new initiative in our region called CANstruction as the title sponsor,” says Johnson who also lost her home in the fire. “Their team has always been responsive, engaged, sensitive, and communicative.”
During this personally chaotic time, Heavy North’s team had to ensure they were completing ongoing projects as well. “When the fires hit and we were evacuated, the bulk of our equipment fleet was trapped to the north as we lost access to our projects,” says Bolen. Raj Sawh, Vice President of Operations, says “What [the fire] did was disrupt some of our project work, and that put a lot of pressure on our team to reschedule and restructure the projects to meet the client’s need. There was some leniency but, work-wise, it had to be done before winter.” The projects were still completed on time but after what was by all accounts a very strenuous period, Heavy North took this event as a time to re-examine their business.
New Headquarters in Edmonton
“During the evacuation, we decided to move our headquarters to Edmonton,” says Sawh. “At first, this was a temporary move, because Fort McMurray has always been home to us. But during that time, Steve and I examined the business— and had to think outside the box,” continues Sawh. “We saw that it made sense to move our head office to Edmonton, and keep a branch office in Fort Mac. We looked at the structure of our organization and how we would communicate with our businesses being in different cities.”
“And it’s given us additional opportunities,” says Bolen, “not only for pursing work, but also for attracting highly-skilled talent.” Edmonton is a centre of a million people, ten times larger than Fort McMurray. “It also brings us closer to our partners in Calgary, so it closes that gap and has given us a stronger position on pursing work outside of the Wood Buffalo area.”
The Heavy North team’s collective knowledge and experience working for and with large enterprise construction companies makes them seasoned vets. The team brings the same “operational excellence” to a smaller project as it does to a larger project, and everything in between. Fast response times, exemplary project management and laser focus on completing the jobs on-time has become the company’s focus.
Though Heavy North may not necessarily always the lowest contractor when it comes to price, Bolen admits, clients return to Heavy North because of the overall value they receive. A greater accolade would be hard to come by. “The bulk of our work comes from repeat clients that we do work for,” says Sawh. “We provide our clients with the same amount of level and detail with it comes to their bid packages and project management and the type of people we have to manage as the biggest companies in the world—but with much quicker reaction times and lower costs—and that separate us from our competition.”
Blair Addison of Finning Canada, a supplier of CAT equipment, parts and services for Heavy North echoes this sentiment. “Some of the key qualities that separate [Heavy North] are their professionalism and attention to detail,” says Addison. “They utilize their previous experiences to bring a big company approach to even the smallest jobs they do, but their size allows them to stay nimble and be as flexible as required. You see that in how diversified they are in job scope and geographic regions, and in the number of partnerships they have developed.”
Heavy North has never been spoiled by the higher margin work during the oil boom, and its operations are finely tuned to give client’s high-value competitive bids. “We had to come in lean and mean right from the get go,” says Bolen. “Accomplishing this means looking to different markets for more business development.”
Strategically, Heavy North has diversified to capitalize on these opportunities. This includes securing smart partnerships to develop business. Recently, Sucker Creek North LP was formed to connect the experience and knowledge of both Sucker Creek First Nation and Heavy North. Additionally, they have a successful partnership with the Mikisew Cree First Nation, as well as another partnership, Heavy Norwest, with engineering company Norwest Corporation out of Calgary.
“We recently put together our partnership with Sucker Creek and are also in the process of rolling out a heavy wall steel pipe division—called HeavyPipe—to enter the pipeline market,” says Bolen. “The more options we have to pursue different types of work in different regions, the better it is.”
Thought Heavy North’s business has expanded, the nucleus of the company—strong, trusting customer relations—has never weakened. Derek Holme has worked with Heavy North as a Sales Representative with SMS Equipment for 18 months. “I can say the most impressive thing I see is the family atmosphere within the organization,” says Holme. “From top to bottom and they have made me feel part of the family every time I walk in their doors.”
For more information on Heavy North Construction, please visit www.heavynorth.com