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Sunday, February 25, 2007

On the way to Alberta . . .

I'm keying this blog entry in the Maple Leaf Lounge in Ottawa, waiting for my (delayed) flight to Calgary, connecting to Edmonton. Will arrive at the hotel about 1:00 a.m. MST, some seven hours from now.

Tomorrow will be a busy day, as I investigate the story of how two Edmonton businesses became international construction industry giants, using very different business models, perhaps with a single common denominator -- ownership.

The PCL Group of Companies is a huge employee-owned business. Stantec is publicly traded. Their common point is they are based in Edmonton.

At 5 pm after my interviews at the two corporate giants, I'm going to behave like a person on a budget -- taking a seat on the evening bus to Ft. McMurray. It is a five hour ride. I'll take the so-called "luxury" bus with computer plug ins and the like, but I'm sure most business executives would fly, as I would, except, without taking the bus, I cannot soak in the experience of what it is like to head to this remote northern Alberta town at the centre of the oil sands boom (and, some would say, global warming).

My stay in Ft. McMurray is brief -- one night, and a few hours before I fly on the new non-stop Air Canada service to Toronto and on to Ottawa Tuesday night.

Why am I taking this brief trip?

First, I've always taken the view that family is more important than anything else, so overnight trips must have a very good business reason, and be as short as possible.

Second, the flights will be very inexpensive because of some arcane Air Canada promotions (no longer available).

Third, and the reason for the trip, I haven't been to Alberta since my youth, when I was a 24-year-old newspaper reporter at the Medicine Hat News in 1977-78. Fate intervened when I declined an employment offer at the Fort McMurray Today in 1980, upon my return from Africa. Instead, I gave up journalism temporarily for a rather rough and agonizing five years employment as a public relations person with the federal government. (Of course the move to Ottawa ultimately led to my meeting Vivian, and starting our family some years later.)

So when the plane lands in Calgary, I'll remember the flights through Calgary from Medicine Hat to Vancouver; and when the connection lands in Edmonton, I'll remember my visit to the Edmonton Journal, before shipping (myself) off to Africa.

And, in the hotel room in Ft. McMurray, under deadline pressure, I'll write the story about how a couple of Edmonton businesses became construction mega-stars. It will be a good and useful story.

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