Customers in Action

Heavy North

DESPITE ITS YOUTH, FORT MCMURRAY CIVIL-CONTRACTING COMPANY HAS PLENTY OF EXPERIENCE

May 15, 2015

“Productive and reliable” Komatsu equipment

Heavy North

Though in its infancy, the experience behind Fort McMurray-based Heavy North stretches back decades. Combined, Co-Founders Steve Bolen and Raj Sawh have more than 50 years of heavy civil-construction work under their belts, much of it spent with large companies serving western Canada’s booming oil and gas industry.

“The idea of starting my own company had been in the back of my mind for some time,” said Bolen, President of Heavy North. “A couple of years back, I decided to do it, and Raj and I teamed up. Our experience gave us a solid foundation to work with, and we’ve steadily built on it.”

Heavy North provides an extensive list of services, including road and building-pad construction; underground-utility installation; and mass and fine excavation. Recently, it teamed up with the Mikisew Cree First Nation to form a partnership known as Mikisew North, which builds upon Heavy North’s list of services by adding clearing and grubbing, mulching and logging.

The company also recently began offering site-maintenance options, such as snow removal, dust control and labour, as well as heavy hauling. Heavy North’s customers are primarily in the energy and utility markets, as well as provincial governments and municipalities.

“We strongly believe in diversification,” said Sawh, Vice President of Operations. “The ability to handle multiple aspects of a job and provide turnkey packages, as well as individual services, is a distinct advantage for both us and our customers. We control the schedule, and our clients have one point of contact they can turn to if they have questions or needs.”

Well-versed staff

Bolen and Sawh incorporated Heavy North in February 2013, but have only physically been building work in the field for just more than a year. As President, Bolen oversees the company and handles sales. Sawh runs the day-to-day operations, which include assisting with estimating and project management. The two work together to manage and set the direction of the company.

In addition to Bolen and Sawh, Heavy North’s management team includes CFO Tom Wilson, Engineering Manager Jesse Erickson, Lead Estimator Ken Woelders, Equipment Manager Ward DeSmoker and Corporate HSE Manager Tammy Anderson. In total, Heavy North employs about 25 permanent staff members and has had as many as 200 craft workers on staff during peak times.

“We have a solid core group of employees, many of whom recruited others to join our organization,” said Sawh. “That’s been a huge factor in our ability to take on relatively large and complex projects, which most companies our age can’t do. Having a qualified and experienced staff in place allows us to bid competitively. They know what to do and how to do it without us having to look over their shoulders. We believe our staff is the best in the business.”

Safety remains Heavy North’s top priority. The company focuses on meeting and exceeding all provincial and client-safety requirements in order to manage risk on every project. Both of its managers have logged millions of injury-free and lost-time incident-free hours through the years.

Project puts it on the map

Bolen and Sawh decided to start small in the beginning, and build Heavy North’s infrastructure before taking on large projects. That allowed them to develop the company’s safety and quality programs, which ensured they could prequalify to work for oil and gas companies and governmental entities that tend to be Heavy North’s customer base. Early on, it focused on relatively small projects, but after about a year, it started a project that the founders believe was the one that really put the firm on the map.

Heavy North was hired to complete a heavy-civil earthwork package for a new electrical project, located south of Fort McMurray. The multimillion-dollar project called for moving 80,000 cubic metres of dirt in a relatively short window of six weeks.

“The general contractor offered us more work, because we proved we could handle a large project,” said Bolen. “We were there almost a year in total. What started out as a little project grew by about six times. Building that trust with clients who then turn to us for repeat work and refer us to others is exactly what we want. It’s the ultimate business relationship.”

Komatsu, SMS service stand out

Heavy North

About the same time Heavy North started the Hangingstone project, it began buying its first pieces of equipment, including Komatsu Tier 4 hydraulic excavators (a PC490LC-10, a PC240LC-10 and a PC210LC-10), a D51 dozer and an HM300 articulated truck. Until that time, the company rented several units from KRents, a division of SMS Equipment, and worked with Sales Rep Ivan Magdic on the acquisitions.

“I was familiar with Komatsu from my previous job, so I knew it was productive and reliable,” said Bolen. “What really sets it apart for us is the service that comes with it, from both SMS Equipment and Komatsu. Ivan has done an outstanding job of finding us the right units to fit our needs, and our Product Support Sales Representative Eric Rosina is great about taking care of us from a parts and service standpoint. Both Ivan and Eric helped reduce our idle time by reviewing the KOMTRAX data with us, which showed how many nonproductive hours we were putting on the machines. It changed our practices and significantly reduced our operating expenses.”

SMS Equipment provides complimentary service on the Tier 4 machines through the Komatsu CARE program, tracking the equipment via KOMTRAX and scheduling routine maintenance at a convenient time and location.

“The Komatsu CARE program is an excellent value to us,” said Sawh. “We can focus our attention on the work at hand and have peace-of-mind that SMS’ certified technicians are taking care of the services on schedule. It shows Komatsu’s commitment to our success. We also appreciate that Komatsu offers attractive financing, which keeps our ownership costs down.”

Adaptable

Most of Heavy North’s current work load is in the Fort McMurray area, but the company services all of Alberta, including Edmonton, with a plan to branch out into other geographical areas.

“We’re adaptable, and we will expand our territory if we need to,” said Sawh. “We have looked at projects in Saskatchewan. Fortunately, we have not had to travel much because we’ve had so much work in the Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo area.”

That may be changing. The decline in oil prices has slowed the oil and gas sector. Bolen and Sawh noted that it will have some impact on Heavy North, but it won’t take a major hit like other companies who are completely invested in that marketplace.

“It goes back to the diversification that we mentioned before,” said Bolen. “We decided not to put all our eggs in one basket. So, if one market drops, we can simply focus more attention on another.”