Supporting B.C.’s Resource Industry

GitxsanIt started as a potential bio-mass electricity contract. It ended as an economic engine that has grossed $20-million and counting, and filled much needed jobs in B.C.’s resource development industry.

The Gitxsan Development Corporation (GDC) was born of a relationship between Rick Connors and the Gitxsan First Nations of Northwestern B.C. It began when Connors’ company needed bio-mass for a potential project with BC Hydro in 2011. Though that project didn’t come to fruition, a friendship and insight between Connors and leaders in the community did.

The Gitxsan chiefs and Connors did a study looking into how the Gitxsan—and their ample natural resources, large potential workforce—could successfully start business outside their community in mainstream economic sectors such as resource extraction and development. What that study concluded, in essence, was a conflict that the matriarchal system that governs the Gitxsan and the legal mainstays that govern the broader Canadian economy and government. The solution to this obstacle became the GDC.

The Gitxsan Chiefs are the GDC owners. There is a five-member board of Directors, with the shareholders being the Lipgyet Trust and the Laxyip Society. The Trust covers a number of entities, including Gitxsan Environmental Services, Gitxsan Safety Service, Gitxsan Energy Inc., Gitxsan Properties Inc., Gitxsan Forest GFI, and Gitxsan Transportation Inc.

“Our mandate is to provide economic opportunities for the Gitxsan people, and enable them to be part of the world economy,” says Connors.

Focus on Jobs
In 2011, the GDC drafted a five-year business plan focusing on providing much needed jobs to surrounding community members. Categories included forestry, safety, transportation, environmental stewardship and energy services. The first focus was a forestry division that centres on logging, reforestation, sustainable forest projects, wood waste exporting and forest management. Forestry is a mainstay of the Gitxsan, says Connors, “and a solid play since they know it best.”

GDC also identified and filled a gap in the safety services field. GDC flagged significant numbers of projects that needed employees for jobs such Safety Monitoring, Traffic Management, Medical Services, and Security—all position that the Gitxsan have occupied. “These are highly-valued roles in ensuring the safety and well-being of motorists, pedestrians, fellow staff, contractors and visitors on a day to day basis,” says Connors.

In two short years, Gitxsan Safety Inc. has done over $7 million in business—a volume of business that is almost unheard of. GDC is now seen as the go-to pilot vehicle company from Kelowna to Vancouver. GDC cars are spotted, escorting trucks with large loads, convoys of large vehicles, guide motorists through construction sites all over the west coast for major infrastructure projects.

GDC recently helped deliver General Electric’s $400-million Tumbler Ridge Wind Farm, the biggest in B.C., coordinating and staffing over 700 loads, the largest loads ever to hit the roads in B.C.

BC SafetyLink
BC SafetyLink, a division within Gitxsan Safety Services Inc., focuses on advanced work alone monitoring and journey management solutions. SafetyLink’s progressive monitoring solutions are backed by industry-leading infrastructure, advanced technology and live support around the clock, year-round. Clients include industry-leaders such as Work Safe BC, Rio Tinto Alto, Spectra Energy, Trans Canada Corporation and BC Hydro.

“This is cutting-edge technology for safety,” says Connors. “We can track people anywhere on the planet through either satellite and or mobile device. We focus on work-alone monitoring and journey management. We are a world-class provider in this area.”

GDC is forging a new path for how First Nations and mainstream business can work together. “Our focus is the youth,” says Connors. When needed, training, both classroom and hands on, is provided by GDC to Gitxsan community members. “We believe that GDC is making a difference.”

Skill Development
Business acumen does not mean that GDC doesn’t have an altruistic side. GDC also has a Career Discoveries program, helping to increase graduation rates in the community. High school participants get immersed in real world in programs like forestry, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and culinary arts—skills in high demand in the resource development industry.

Students are shown what a career in those sectors may entail and if there is an interest. All programs are affiliated with Red Seal is the national standard of excellence for skilled trades in Canada, and count towards high school credits.

Consistency, Management, and Execution
In September, 2016, the British Columbia Achievement Foundation honoured Gitxsan Safety Services Inc. with the Outstanding Business Achievement award in the Community-Owned Business of the Year – One Entity category. The award recognizes Aboriginal entrepreneurship is vital to meeting the demands in natural resource activities, and brings economic development and sustainable job creation to the region.

It is a testament to the commitment and skillset of the Gitxsan people how successful GDC has become in a short period of time. “The GDC employees show Consistency, management, and execution skills,” says Connors. “As a direct result, they are very successful.”

“We are able to employ people, and approximately 80 per cent of our jobs go to the Gitxsan. I call that exemplary,” says Connors. With a little over $20-million in business last year, few would disagree.