By Cheryl Long
What does it take to become one of Western Canada’s fastest-growing engineering and consulting companies? If your name is Ecora, it’s a matter of combining highly talented people with a strong passion for natural resources, and the rest falls into place.
The British Columbia-based company specializes in civil and structural engineering, natural resource and environmental consulting, and community and land use planning. Ecora is still relatively young, launched by four senior natural resource consultants in 2010 who chose to join forces after leaving the company they worked for when it restructured. One of those four is Kelly Sherman, Ecora’s President and CEO, and a senior resource analyst and carbon specialist. Sherman spoke to Business Elite Canada about Ecora’s success and plans for the company’s future.
“Our strength is low overhead and we’ve got a very talented team, so it’s really surrounding ourselves with really good people,” he explained. “On our natural resource side, we worked for a company that had 250 people and we were able to pick an all-star team to start our company and of course we selected some very good people.”
Ecora’s roster of professionals continued to grow as they attracted engineers with established reputations and experience in B.C.’s Okanagan region – an area with a large share of the engineering and consulting market. In early 2011, Ecora acquired Chesapeake Services – an engineering firm in Penticton, B.C. – and they formed a sister company called Ecora Engineering, which allowed them to merge the consulting and engineering sides and offer a wider range of services to their clients.
Today, the company’s offices in Kelowna, Penticton, Prince George and Vancouver deliver a full complement of natural resource consulting, civil engineering and structural engineering services to a diverse client base operating in forestry, oil and gas, municipal developments, alternative energy, and other industries. They’ve grown to a team of 50 professionals, ranging from biologists and ecologists to engineers, GIS analysts and administrative staff.
Young talent attracted to Ecora
“We’ve had a lot of success attracting young talent and we’re of a size where people like to come work with us because they’re not a number; they’re actually a big part of the team and they have a say in what we do,” Sherman said. “I think that’s been really effective in keeping people. We have almost complete retention and … we’ve got some highly talented people coming and asking for opportunities with us.”
Founded on a desire to prioritize client satisfaction, Ecora combines exceptional communication skills, technical innovation, superior product quality and operational efficiency to give them an edge over the competition. The company’s growth has allowed them to become a one-stop shop for land developers in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. Subdivision planning and layout, storm water management, roads, site grading and construction cost estimates are just a sample of the development services available through Ecora Engineering. As well, structural engineers will work with homeowners or general contractors on building or renovation projects.
“People can come to us and we’ve got the civil engineering, we’ve got the structural engineering, we’ve got the architectural design, we’ve got all the environmental services and then we have the foresters on staff. Our intentions are to have a group of geotechs coming on board with us so we can offer the full gamut of services,” Sherman explained.
Geotechnical engineering is part of the vision for the future
Geotechnical engineering is attracting attention these days, and it’s an important part of Ecora’s vision for the future. “Geotechnical services is one piece that fits very well in the services that we currently offer. We’ve been quite fortunate to have some very talented geotechs in queue and we’re planning to set up a lab and open that up for this spring,” Sherman said. Other possible opportunities on the horizon include the addition of an architect to the team, and a potential partnership in the oil and gas industry with a company involved in bridge work and inspections.
While growth is seen as a positive trend for successful companies, managing the hurdles that come with it can be tricky. As CEO, that’s something that Sherman knows well. “I would say that the biggest challenge is generally finding the balance between managing cash while there are a lot of opportunities to pursue, and finding that balance between sustaining our growth, keeping our high quality products, our solid reputation, and growing at a sustainable rate.”
Ecora is currently expanding into Alberta and Saskatchewan, and hopes to take on projects in Manitoba as they work their way east. They’ve developed good working relationships with a number of First Nations clients in B.C. “We are working with a team of First Nation engineers in Ontario and looking at ways of leveraging some of their First Nations talent and getting them some work over here and seeing if it can open up a few doors,” Sherman said.
Helping China manage their environment
China is another market where Ecora is sharing their wealth of knowledge, bringing some of the country’s experts back to Canada to train in resource management and helping the Chinese establish successful afforestation programs. Environmental management is an area where China is still in the developmental stage, and Ecora has a great deal of knowledge and expertise to offer.
No matter where the company’s progress takes them, they continue to operate around a core value of commitment to their employees, their clients, the communities in which they work, and the environment. It’s a philosophy that extends through all levels of Ecora.
“A lot of our success comes from surrounding ourselves with good people,” Sherman said. “We pride ourselves in being able to identify people’s talents and helping them find a role where they’re strong and, through that, they perform really well.”
Recently, Ecora Engineering and Resource Group combined their expertise on the Cedar Creek Restoration project in the Kettle Valley area of Kelowna. Project components included the design of a retaining wall, design of a culvert suitable for fish and wildlife passage, and riparian site restoration prescriptions and design.
To learn more about Ecora, visit ecora.ca.