Spinoff flows from new living spaces

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Builders, suppliers maturing in N.L.

Construction is well underway on the first units of Westfield Condominiums off Blackmarsh Road. Each building includes four, 1,000-square foot living spaces. The new buildings will meet the needs of a range of buyers, from new home owners to empty nesters looking to downsize, according to realtor Jim Burton. – Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

The construction of house, hotel, apartment, condominium and commercial projects in St. John's and surrounding areas has local construction companies working flat out. It also has new construction supply and service businesses emerging in the province.

The Merit Contractors Association of Newfoundland and Labrador works on behalf of about 80 member companies with open-shop operations in Newfoundland and Labrador, including companies currently active on major projects within St. John's.

"Everybody wants to be busy and everybody wants to be on projects that are well managed, on time, on budget and safe. At least that's our members' perspective. And right now, here in at least the Avalon, there is a great deal of demand and activity and all those parameters seem to be falling in line fairly well," said association director Paul Dubé.

"People complain that they're too busy, but that's a good complaint."

Association members, he said, are conscious of legislated labour and safety standards both out of a desire for safe workplaces, but also a desire for maximum productivity during the ongoing wave of construction.

"That on budget, on time and safe are parameters of any project (means) we're very conscious of staying within the safety bounds."

The thousands of new buildings being erected by construction companies in the metro area have also provided opportunities for a wide range of spinoff businesses, including those providing planning and tangible items to both surround and fill the structures.

At Attica furniture in downtown St. John's, manager David Ford said oil and mining projects have resulted in Attica being tapped by corporate customers. It's being asked to furnish multiple apartments or condos for workers moving into the metro area.

"There's been an increase, too, of designers coming in town," he said, rattling off several names, including Elizabeth Kennedy of Studio Kennedy, who was featured in The Telegram's 20 Questions this past weekend.

"As of recently, I find there's more designers coming in and people coming in looking for designers, rather than going out on their own. They hire someone to do it for them."

Ford said new homes have resulted in some spinoff for the company, but the real bump is expected down the road, as new homebuyers build up equity and go looking for upgrades to starter furniture.

New endeavours in manufacturing

The construction boom is also creating openings for local manufacturers looking to increase their output or diversify their product lines.

For example, GFI Composites Ltd. specializes in industrial products and has recently acquired permits to develop a manufacturing facility in Bay Bulls.

President Pat Galway told The Telegram he saw an opportunity to apply the company's expertise in fibreglass moulds to create tub and shower units for residential interiors.

"Throughout that type of business and being involved in the fibreglass industry, it's led me to Quebec a lot for business trips. Now Quebec is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, tub and shower manufacturer in North America, just about. So they supply the province with 100 per cent of tub and shower units," he said in a recent interview, noting that's in the range of 3,000 units a year.

"There's literally thousands of these things coming into the province. High amounts of freight on them because they're such a bulk item. We looked at it as a good business opportunity for us to manufacture them here and then distribute them around the province," he said.

Galway said he's already had positive feedback on the company's new product plans.

"We even got probably a half a dozen letters of intent saying if you manufacture it, we will purchase - if it is of comparable price and comparable quality," he said.

Equipment for the new facility is on its way to the province and Galway said the new operation could be up and running by January or February.

"There's a lot of little niche products like that. The big thing for the manufacturers is to focus on things that are hard to ship.

"If you can stick it in a container and stack it up 20 high and send it from China, you're not going to compete," he said.

"But if it's high freight items, there's no reason why you can't compete right there."

Organizations: Merit Contractors Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, GFI Composites

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec Bay Bulls.President Pat Galway North America China

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