Building Quebec’s Landscape

unibecBy Rajitha Sivakumaran

As indicated by its name, Unibec Construction is a general contractor, specializing in commercial, industrial, institutional and civil engineering fields. Based in Dolbeau-Mistassini, Quebec, this family-owned operation has been thriving despite the economic slowdown. In fact, a quick glance at the company website shows that Unibec is currently partaking in multi-million dollar projects for prominent clients like Hydro Québec and more.

“As a general contractor in construction, we offer our clients expertise in project management, construction, demolition, asbestos removal (at all levels), etc.,” said Ghislain Lamothe, the company’s president. “Moreover, with the participation of our many subcontractors, we are able to carry out various contracts, regardless of the field in which they are located.”

Lamothe has always worked in the field of construction. He soon passed on this passion to his son-in-law, Yanick Pronovost, now Unibec’s project director, who was then pursuing studies in engineering at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi. Having already owned a construction company, Lamothe and Pronovost decided to found Unibec at the end of his studies.

“We had only a dozen employees and a turnover that suited us. When I graduated as an engineer, we wanted to expand,” Pronovost said. His new skills allowed Unibec to expand beyond the municipality it was operating in, all across the Saguenay Lac-St-Jean area and even into Quebec City. In 2014, with the arrival of a third shareholder, Pierre Thibeault, who is now the company’s vice president, Unibec began bidding in northern Quebec.

“This process of expansion led us to work several times with Hydro Québec on their various sites.

We have carried out repairs of hydroelectric plant roofs and stations. We are proud of the experience gained from these projects,” Thibeault said.

From the construction of the Library of Jonquière (cost: $7,090,000) for the City of Saguenay to the extension of the Vocational Training Centre (cost: $7,755,000) for the City of Chibougamau, Unibec has been very busy adding to the landscape of Quebec. The former project was even nominated for the CÉCOBOIS award in 2015.

The construction field is a tough one due to its labour-intensive demands, but even by those standards, Unibec has successfully completed a number of difficult projects. The work it did on the roof of a Hydro Québec power plant is an example of that. Staff had to work near high voltage equipment and in areas with limited access as they changed more than 100,000 square feet of roof. Yet the project was completed two months ahead of schedule.

“Our greatest strength is our ability to adapt,” Thibeault said. “We have the reputation of finding the solution to solve every problem in a very short timeframe, and satisfying all stakeholders. As far as our growth strategy is concerned, we sincerely believe that our team, competent and versatile, allows us to remain competitive in the current market.”

In fact, all industries are constantly changing, he says. Adapting by keeping what sets Unibec apart from competitors is driving the success of the company. Furthermore, he added that the primary goal of Unibec is not to obtain contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, but rather to remain competitive with the team it currently has in order to offer its clients a service that remains personalized.

Regardless of the company’s success, all enterprises, small and large, encounter challenges on a daily basis. The slowdown of the construction industry, for example, has affected all parties involved. Unibec’s three shareholders agree, with a laugh, that their biggest challenge is to make money.

“We can’t pretend that the problem does not exist,” Lamothe said. “For two years, the construction industry has been slowing down. There are fewer projects and contractors are more ‘voracious’. The bidder number when bidding most bids doubled. Our approach is to remain aware of this situation in order to adjust while remaining faithful to our past and present practices.”

Thibeault added that it is difficult to predict the evolution the industry will undergo over the next few years. He hopes, however, that growth will return in 2017 and in the years to come. “Certainly, we will be present and ready for new challenges,” he said.

The company is certainly not letting the economy hinder its future vision. Even now Unibec is continuing its expansion into northern Quebec by taking on larger, more complex projects.