Cree Construction

HOW THIS FIRST-PEOPLE FIRM HAS BECOME ONE OF QUEBEC’S LARGE CONSTRUCTION COMPANIES

Nov 23, 2009

Komatsu delivers reliability and reliability equals revenue

Just a few decades ago, most of northern Quebec consisted of small, remote Cree communities that were largely inaccessible to the outside world. The native inhabitants subsisted primarily by hunting, fishing and trapping, much as they had for hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years.

That all began to change in the 1970s when the Quebec provincial government and Hydro-Quebec, the giant electric utility, embarked upon the James Bay Hydroelectric Project — a plan to harness energy from the numerous rivers in the region and turn it into electricity. The undertaking, which continues today, was dubbed “the project of the century,” and rightfully so, as the construction and engineering feats, as well as the power generated and transmitted, have been stunning.

During the early stages of the project, the native Cree signed an agreement with the government called the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement, which compensates the Cree Nation and Cree communities for land and for the uprooting of their old way of life and helps them build new communities.

Rather than concede all the hydroelectric work to outsiders, the Cree decided to form their own construction company — the Cree Construction and Development Company (CCDC) — to do some of the work itself. Today, CCDC does most of the Cree community building, including access roads, water and sewer, schools, stores and houses.

“Much of what we do in the Cree communities is ‘set-aside’ for us, but we still have to be competitive on price, quality and timelines,” said William MacLeod, President of CCDC. “We also work for Hydro-Quebec. We build access roads so men, equipment and supplies are able to get into the wilderness area where the dams and generating stations are being constructed. We also build camps, which are essentially small cities, to house the men who work on these massive construction efforts. In addition, we work on the dams themselves. Most of this non-Cree work is bid and awarded to us based on price and our proven capabilities.”

Full-service construction firm

Since its formation, CCDC has become a large and successful contracting firm in Quebec. Its list of services includes civil engineering, buildings, environmental and special projects, airport and road maintenance, construction management, green building and crushing. The company typically has between 300 and 850 employees, depending upon the work load, and since 2003 has had revenues in excess of $500 million.

“We can do just about anything construction-related and we’re ISO 9001 certified, which speaks to our management and technical skills,” MacLeod pointed out. “Our specialty is our ability to work productively and cost-effectively in remote and semi-remote regions. In addition to Quebec, we’ve worked in Ontario and Manitoba.”

Cree Construction and Development is based in Chisasibi on the northeastern shore of James Bay. It has offices in Mistissini near Chibougamau, in the Montreal suburb of Laval, and in Thompson, Manitoba, in preparation for an upcoming project in that province.

Reliable Komatsu equipment

In order to do the amount of work that CCDC does and do it cost-effectively, the company has a large fleet of equipment including Komatsu machines from SMS Equipment in Val-d’Or. Over the past two years, the company has purchased more than a dozen Komatsu units from SMS.

“We have a very good relationship with SMS,” confirmed MacLeod. “They have good equipment, good availability and good parts and service. We’re often out in the middle of nowhere, so supporting us is a challenge. SMS has been a good partner for Cree Construction.”

“Komatsu is renowned for its excavators,” noted CCDC Fleet Maintenance Superintendent Michel Jean. “Our most recent purchase included four PC600s and six PC300s. We also own Komatsu dozers and wheel loaders.

“Because we work in very remote areas, the most important thing to us is equipment reliability,” he added. “We were impressed and pleased with SMS’ price for a complete extended warranty. Now that we’ve had many of the Komatsu units for a while, I can see how they’re able to offer the warranty at such a reasonable price. Two of our PC600s are now past 6,000 hours and we haven’t had a single service call. In our business, and especially in the territories where we work, reliability equals revenue — and Komatsu delivers reliability.”

Optimistic about the future

MacLeod is optimistic about the future of Cree Construction and Development Company.

“In addition to the ongoing James Bay Hydroelectric Project, I expect that we’ll continue to be involved in energy-related construction projects in Quebec, as well as other provinces. We’ll form partnerships, as necessary, to help us secure work and provide economic opportunities, which is what we’re already doing in Manitoba, and probably will do in the Northwest Territories as well.”

MacLeod acknowledges that the last 30 years of development in northern Quebec have not always been an easy ride.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but I’d definitely say Cree Construction, which is owned by the Cree community, has been a success. One of our goals as a company is to improve the lives of and provide opportunity for the Cree people. On some of our projects, the percentage of Cree employees could be as high as 90 percent. On others, it may be as low as 20 percent. The percentage depends on the type of work and where it is, but we always try to employ as many Cree as possible, especially the younger generation, because if we can’t provide them with opportunities, they’ll leave.

“At this time, we still need and appreciate the set-aside work we get from the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement, but my goal is to use that as a launching pad to become self-sufficient,” he added. “I’m pleased with our progress toward that end, not just at CCDC, but in all aspects of the Cree community.”