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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In Thunder Bay

After the plane landed yesterday, I picked up the rental car and headed straight to the offices of the Construction Association of Thunder Bay. The association, with about 200 members, serves an incredibly large territory in Northwestern Ontario. In the offices, I met Ann Goodwin and Harold Lindstrom, the association's two employees. I also brought in our membership application and paid the dues to join the association.

Harold offered me some insights into the state of the construction industry in this region and, in fact, throughout Northern Ontario. For several years now, the economy in this part of the world has been in the doldrums; especially the forest industry has suffered. Yet, reflecting the reality that construction continues in even not-so-good-times, he said the association's membership has been reasonably stable over the years.
One change, he said, is the decline in the number of local area general contractors; as the market thinned, the ability of businesses to support/handle specialized projects locally diminished, opening the door for out-of-region contractors. But sub trades and suppliers locally based have a real advantage; they know the ways of the world in the North -- especially how to bring labour into smaller and remote locations. Workers based in Thunder Bay, for example, expect to work remotely, staying at camps or motels in smaller centres, when they work on larger projects in these regions. This suggests one thing we should include in our northern publication is a directory listing of hotels/motels in smaller centres capable of handling construction workers/teams.

The interface between whites and natives also is a factor; many publicly funded projects are on Indian reserves -- and the Indian bands rightfully want their own people to work on these jobs; but the problem is they lack the skills and is it piratical to train someone in a specialized skill for a one-time project (the option, I presume, would be that the Native worker, properly trained, could become mobile and move from job to job, but how many people want that lifestyle?)
One thing you can learn here is how businesses adapt, survive, even thrive when conditions are not great. This should give hope for more recently established contractors elsewhere, especially in parts of the U.S. who are experiencing their first recession.

This afternoon, Ill be heading home -- Air Canada now offers Executive Class on flights here -- with Aeroplan points the flight cost $90.00. That is the way I like to live -- well, but not wastefully.

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