It’s a tough jump from small local company to being able to compete with the big boys but one Grande Prairie company has been able to do that, and do it in a relatively short period of time.

Co-owners Dean Kato and Brad Clarke started Tradesmen Enterprises in 2006 with 10 employees and that number has grown in just a few years to 320.

As well In 2008 Tradesmen expanded their services to include a pipeline division and brought on Donnie O’Brien as manager and co-owner of the division.

“Just in the last two years we’ve grown over 300 per cent,” said Business Development officer Keith Smith.

The company specializes in gas plant and facilities and pipeline construction and has recently been awarded a contract to build part of the Alta-Gas project in Gordendale, AB. The project’s overall budget is $230 million and even without building the entire facility,it’s a huge success for the locals at Tradesmen and offers a good indication of what they are capable of.

“It’s one really nice way to attract that common workforce because we are going to need some more people,” said Clarke. “ It’s not a camp job and it’s not out of town and we’ve got a lot of local people that work for us anyway so they love that, and then people from out of town and they don’t mind coming to Grande Prairie and staying in hotels; Grande Prairie has a lot to offer.”

Their growth has been nothing short of spectacular and they attribute that to a hands-on, grassroots approach to running the company.

“Both myself and Brad have grown up in the Peace Country,” said Kato, “and that definitely does help. The oil patch is a small world when you start talking about the service industry and the aspect of work that we do, it’s very small. You’re name carries a long way in the oil patch and we’ve been fortunate enough that all of our people and the jobs that we do are always on budget and always on time and that holds a lot of weight in the clients’ eyes.”

There is nothing that they ask employees to do that they haven’t done. Both men started out as labourers in the oil patch: Kato as a welder and Clarke as a pipefitter. They worked their way up the ranks, got the training they needed, and when they started their own company, they were able to grow their leadership skills along with it. They attribute much of their leadership to valuing integrity, honesty and dedication.

And they’re still learning. Last year they both learned to fly the two helicopters the company now owns.

It’s a way to visit more sites in a shorter time and access remote locations, they explained. It helps put their feet on the ground with their clients and workers and they said that’s just where they want to be.

“We’ve got a very open and handson approach to running the company and, in my opinion, that goes a long way nowadays for the guys to be able to see that – to be able to see the president of the company out on a jobsite or walking around the yard and be able to go up and talk to them – that’s a huge thing for the guys nowadays,” said Kato.

“I would have to agree that a lot of the workers started off, and have worked with us for a long time so they’re used to seeing us even years back when we the guys actually on the jobsite looking after the individual projects for other companies,” said Clarke. They understand that although we’re owners…we can understand things from their point of view because we both started off as labourers.”

They would love to continue a steady and sustainable growth for Tradesmen Enterprises until they can employ 400-500 workers and generate $80-$100 million in annual revenue, so it is perhaps a benefit that the industry as a whole is busy and they are experiencing some of the same issues prevalent throughout the region.

“We were busy even a year ago. What the current boom has done is prevent further growth because you can’t hire welders or pipefitters or a labour force to even grow more,” said Smith.

“Materials are coming into affect now because other companies that supply  us for structural steel and piping – they can’t produce it as quick.”

The company has a very low staff turnover rate and coupled with the fact that their key employees have been with the company for years, makes the labour shortage less pressing than it might be.

And the company has grown large enough that while projects may have become more complex, getting the work is easier.

“We’ve got the infrastructure in place to manage the larger projects which is the hard part coming from a small company,” said Clarke. And larger projects help create more stability for their workforce, providing a buffer for both the company and its employees alike.


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