Building trust for 36 years
By Rajitha Sivakumaran
In the spring of 1979, at the age of 14, Rick Phibbs became acquainted with infrastructure labour while working for his father’s newly opened business, Circle P Paving. Thirty-seven years later, this organization continues its legacy as a family-owned business, providing quality service in the Niagara/Hamilton area. Phibbs, now the General Manager of Circle P Paving, operates the company with the help of his brother, Jim, and sister, Penny, out of its headquarters in Stevensville, Ontario. Even their 72-year-old father, Dwight, continues to play an integral part in the management of the company.
Circle P Paving has crafted a nook within the world of paving and road maintenance. They work at the commercial, industrial and municipal levels, and have worked with every municipality between Stevensville and Hamilton.
“We’ve built a niche with our business around maintenance and that can be anywhere from a highway to secondary municipal roads, and we try to satisfy that niche with the services that we provide,” Phibbs said.
Asphalt milling service is another specialty of the company. With a team specially trained in the technologies behind parking lot repairs, road excavation and rehabilitation, road overlay, RAP paving, surface treatment and road milling, it is no surprise that Circle P Paving has persisted through the ups and downs of the market for nearly four decades.
“We’re sticklers for providing quality… We might not be the cheapest guys in town but at the same time we’re not charging the most. We try to be consistent with our pricing and we try to build a trust with all our clientele. Thus far, it’s worked very well through 36 completed years,” Phibbs said.
Challenges of the industry
“It’s not like it’s been 36 years of clear sailing,” Phibbs said.
The 1980s, a time following the inception of the company, was a highly profitable period but due to the circular nature of the economy, the early and mid-1990s brought with them a calamitous recession period.
“But we were able to rebound and come back … We have this philosophy here that we’re in it for the long run,” Phibbs said.
Despite downturns, Phibbs described road maintenance as “fairly recession-proof”. Roads are heavily used and overuse generates repair. Consequently, the demand for businesses that specialize in such a trade rarely plummets. Although funding may be limited for a complete road reconstruction or road resurfacing, a basic level of repair is always needed and the funds to do these short-term repairs are continuously accessible.
Nevertheless, factors, apart from economical fluctuations, have pushed Circle P Paving towards a westward expansion. The company has had to migrate into Hamilton due to the sluggish rate of population growth in the Niagara region.
“Without local market growth, without population growth, without commercial tax base growth, it’s made it increasingly difficult on the municipalities to fund to the level things need to be funded. So as a consequence to that, we have had to go further west,” Phibbs said.
The incorporation of Hamilton has compensated for the limitations of the Niagara market. According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Hamilton-Niagara Peninsula (HNP) is home to 1.45 million residents, accounting for 11 per cent of the province’s population. The number is predicted to gradually rise due to the migration attracted by low interest rates and appealing house prices.
“To be in business for a number of years, you’ve got to have flexibility, you’ve got to expand and contract … At the same time you’ve got to be cognisant of what the industry is doing, what the market conditions are and what the trends are doing,” Phibbs said about the Hamilton expansion.
Although a bright future is predicted for the HNP, shortages in infrastructure spending present an additional challenge to companies like Circle P Paving.
“There’s a shortfall of systemic money in the system through conventional taxation and of course, over the last number of years the amount of downloading that’s taken place from the province back to the individual municipalities, it’s really burdened their ability to try to stay current to what’s required to maintain infrastructure, sewer, water, roads, bridges … and what we’re seeing play out now … it’s reflective in the road conditions and the aging infrastructure … now we’re trying to catch up,” Phibbs said.
During the fall election campaigns, the Liberal party pledged an additional $60 billion towards infrastructure expenditure over a period of 10 years.
“We all sit anxiously awaiting what that could potentially mean to our respective areas,” Phibbs said.
Luckily for companies like Circle P Paving, the government is considering pumping out capital at a faster rate than initially proposed.
Serving as President of the Fort Erie Chamber of Commerce
In addition to his managing role at Circle P Paving, Phibbs serves as the president of the Fort Erie Chamber of Commerce. Before the end of his tenure, he plans to instigate projects that will ensure the growth of the Niagara region. One such endeavour is the Canadian Motor Speedway, a project that has been fairly stagnant since its inception in 2007. Phibbs, a strong proponent of the speedway, described its construction as “an unprecedented opportunity”, equivalent to bringing the illustrious NASCAR to Canada.
“I think this is something that is direly needed here, not only for Fort Erie but all of Niagara,” Phibbs said.
The project is a complicated one with involvement from various players, including many layers of government, numerous approval processes and differing viewpoints.
“It’s like going to Toronto in rush hour. You get different surges where the traffic’s moving and things are flowing and you’re thinking that you’re going to be going uninterrupted when all of a sudden, the brakes go on ahead of you and you stop,” Phibbs said, using this analogy to describe the progress of the speedway.
Additionally, not everyone in town is happy with such opulent construction and the consequent influx of all that it will bring, but in response to this, Phibbs said, “Sometimes you’ve got to think outside the box and think beyond yourself … you’ve got to think towards the youth and your own kids and your grandkids and their future — this is something the business community down here vehemently believes in.”
Due to the disparity between the Canadian and American dollars, now would be an ideal time for American investors to take advantage of the fruitful business opportunities sprouting up in the Niagara region. “There’s not a better time to be making this investment,” Phibbs said with enthusiasm.
Phibbs views the completion of the speedway as a gateway into future investment opportunities and greater economic development for the entire region. It will serve as a conduit to help support other businesses, like hotels, casinos, the Fort Erie racetrack and the wine industry, he added.
Other projects that will enhance the area, offering value to both community members and visitors, are the Miller’s Creek Marina and the implementation of GO Trains in Niagara.
“We have to learn that if something’s coming this way, we’ve got to leverage the opportunities collectively and be methodical in that … work in a collaborative manner with a unified approach to enhance and market Niagara for all that it has to offer,” Phibbs said.
For more information on Circle P Paving, visit www.circleppaving.com.