Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Seize the Day

Operations at NGC Nunatsiavut Construction

Cutting down on costs and improving productivity are two keys to surviving the storms of business.

But for two Aboriginal businesses in Atlantic Canada, finding new markets and building on their strengths are their keys to both surviving and thriving.

Diversification has been a modus operandi for NGC Nunatsiavut Construction Inc., situated in the northern Labrador community of Postville.

What was first established as a sawmill operation in 1998 employing just eight seasonal employees has evolved into a full-time operation employing 25 and offering a variety of services.

Originally the company cut logs in winter for local markets, built access roads and grew the business to supply pulpwood markets. But when those pulpwood markets dropped in 2006, NGC Nunatsiavut Construction Inc. decided to look for opportunities elsewhere.

“We became a bulk fuel storage facility for the mining industry, moving freight and refueling helicopters, as well as secondary processing of wood core boxes,” says company manager Maxwell Kinden.

And when the company found a supply of aggregate (sand, gravel and crushed stone) on its land while building a road, opportunity struck again.

Today, after crushing the materials on-site, they ship it via barges to many coastal communities — where it may be used as a road base, in concrete products like bricks and pipes, for filtration as well as snow and ice control.

These days, they’ve also developed a construction division that specializes in building structures in rough terrain, starting with a 2,500-square-foot rehabilitation centre — a healing lodge — that only took a couple of months to construct.

“If they say it can’t be done, they call us and we do it,” says Max.

Owen Fitzerald (left) and Dan Christmas in Membertou

Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 kilometres south on Cape Breton Island, five First Nations communities have formed the Unama’ki Economic Benefits Office (Unama’ki is the Mi’kmaq word for Cape Breton), a unique collaborative strategy for economic development.

Located in Membertou, the office was initiated six years ago to oversee First Nations business opportunities arising from the $400 million Sydney Tar Ponds cleanup project. The office helped make sure that approximately $19 million was set aside for Aboriginal companies to participate in this massive project according to signed agreements.

“With guidance, training and a lot of hard work, these First Nations businesses gained valuable experience, expertise and confidence,” says Owen Fitzgerald, executive director. 

“They proceeded to bid on and win more work, so now the original $19 million of contract work has grown to $71 million for First Nations companies, with full time employment for over 35 people.”

Owen says that ACOA took a chance in giving the five First Nations an opportunity to prove what they could do, enabling Unama’ki’s staff of eight to search for new economic opportunities, train more than 300 Aboriginal workers for skilled, well-paying positions, and create almost 200 full time jobs.

“ACOA’s original investment has helped leverage other investment dollars and form new partnerships. We may not have realized these opportunities if not for that initial investment and support.”

For NGC Nunatsiavut Construction Inc., help from ACOA has been about much more than just funding.

“From the business planning stages to meeting opportunities and advice on our operations, ACOA has been there for us,” Max says. “The staff has a good working relationship with the Nunatsiavut communities and we couldn’t do the things we do in the north without them.”

As for the future, things are looking bright for both Owen and Max.

Last season, NGC Nunatsiavut Construction Inc.’s revenues increased by nearly 30 per cent and Max is optimistic that growth will continue.

Meanwhile, Unama’ki Economic Benefits Office is now exploring other economic opportunities and seeking potential new partnerships with companies to keep the business momentum going.

For these two communities, economic growth is the best possible side effect of recognizing opportunities — and seizing them.

Published June 11, 2013