Creating exceptional homes in workforce lodges

Rod Graham of Horizon North talks about why quality and consistency pays off when housing workers

Rod Graham is president and chief executive officer of Horizon North.

Rod Graham

What does Horizon North Logistics do?

Graham: Horizon North has two sides to our business. Our industrial services division has been a key part of our business since our inception in 2006, providing workforce accommodations, camp management services, access solutions, maintenance services and utilities. We’re full turnkey, meaning we can build, deliver and install facilities for our customers, manage and maintain them throughout their life cycle, and provide them with access through difficult, environmentally-sensitive terrain.

The more recent evolution of our business is modular solutions, which grew out of the oil price crash in 2014. It’s what I call disruption for construction – using offsite, controlled building methods to shorten project timelines and create higher-quality buildings. Using the same turnkey philosophy as our industrial services, we design, build and install commercial, residential and industrial structures like single and multi-family homes, hotels, offices, affordable housing, and retail buildings, among others.

Tell me about the new workforce lodge in Kitimat, B.C.

Graham: The opening of our Crossroads Lodge is the next step in the development of the 57-acre land parcel that Horizon North owns in Kitimat. The first phase of the lodge – approximately 260 beds – will be opening in mid-second quarter of 2019 to support increasing development in Kitimat and the surrounding area. As industrial activity picks up, with the LNG Canada project obviously being a central part of that, we will grow Crossroads Lodge and will be looking at 800 to 1,000 beds when the build-out is complete.

For us, it’s more about quality than quantity, though. Regardless of the bed total, our goal is to provide a world-class experience for our customers and guests. Later in 2019, we will be opening a new, modular-built hotel as part of our 16-acre commercial development on the Crossroads property. Office and retail developments are also being evaluated for the remaining commercial lots in this area. Further down the road, in the early part of the next decade, we will be looking to build out 27 acres of residential land in Crossroads to complete a full, mixed-use community that serves Kitimat and the surrounding regions well.

We are in it for the long haul in Kitimat. We see today as year four of a generational relationship that started when we purchased this land in 2015. I have been to Kitimat more than 20 times over the past four years, we have a full-time aboriginal and community relations team member living in the community, and we have built excellent relationships within the community, including with council and the First Nations in the area. It’s a business-friendly environment and all members of the district have been excellent to work with. We are looking forward to supporting the local community even further by procuring as much local talent and project support as we possibly can.

How many camps do you operate and where?

Graham: We serve 10,000 to 20,000 meals a day from as many as 10 open lodges and 20-plus customer-owned facilities. Those facilities can be found as far north as the tip of Baffin Island and across western Canada, from Saskatchewan to the West Coast.

While we started primarily as an oil and gas services company, our customer base has diversified to include potash, iron ore, mining, forestry and construction clients.

A good portion of the work we do in industrial services is executed through 25 partnerships that we’ve established with Indigenous communities in the areas where we work. When we solidify these partnerships, our commitment is to make a real difference and provide economic and employment benefits for the people that call the area home. Our team is very proud of the fact that 15 per cent of our roughly 2,000 employees self-identify as Indigenous. It shows that we’re delivering on the commitments that we make to these communities.

What is the company’s philosophy when it comes to workforce camps and accommodations? What should they include and how they should be built?

Graham: Our philosophy with our lodges is to offer turnkey capabilities that lead the way in quality and safety. With our customers dealing with Horizon North wherever possible, it helps us create a consistent, high-quality, safe environment – a home away from home for our guests.

To ensure a consistent high-quality experience, we have adopted a first-time quality model based on what Toyota does with its vehicles. We document and measure dozens of criteria across our lodges to make sure how we’re cleaning a room, making a bed or cooking a dinner is the same in northern British Columbia as it is in Saskatchewan. We want every one of the 9,500 rooms that we oversee to be exceptional places to stay.

The safety of our team members and our guests is also key to our philosophy. Cooking, construction, maintenance and driving are all jobs that naturally carry a higher risk of injury. Add on the remote working environment to any of these items and it becomes even more critical to make sure we’re keeping people safe. Our customers expect it, we expect it, and we are one of the few companies in our industry who are committed to transparent reporting of our successes and opportunities for improvement in safety.

The final piece of our philosophy is making sure we are hitting the sweet spot in the sizing of our lodges. We can handle a lodge of any size, but it needs to be built and staffed properly to ensure we are emphasizing quality over quantity and safety over risk. If we push for a certain amount of rooms without the infrastructure to support, we’re compromising both quality and safety and that’s not something we believe in doing.

What are the company’s future plans?

Graham: Our plan is to continue to grow and diversify the geographies and end markets we can serve across Canada. In the last few weeks, we have announced the pending addition of our fourth modular manufacturing facility located in Grimsby, Ont. It complements our facilities in Kamloops, Aldergrove and Calgary, and gives us the ability to serve customers across the country. That facility also brings an expertise in steel-frame, non-combustible modular construction that we can add to our wood-frame construction expertise in the West.

We are going to continue efforts to make non-traditional hires that can aid in that growth. Over the last four years, we have brought on team members with diverse industry experiences. Those industries include production line, facility management, continuous improvement, affordable housing, airlines and environmental solutions. Each of those individuals brings a different view on our existing business and opportunities to grow that has been critical to our journey.

Finally, we are going to maintain a conservative balance sheet and continue our total return strategy, paying a dividend to our shareholders. The general environment is tough, no doubt, but our balance sheet, our commitment to hiring the right personnel, and our diversification to new customer end markets have allowed us to pivot our business and set ourselves up for what I see as a bright future for Horizon North.

– Mario Toneguzzi for Calgary’s Business

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