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Riding the Wave

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Professional Excavators is a mid-sized construction company operating in the greater Calgary area since 1975. Its main line of work is on large tower building developments and earthworks projects in downtown Calgary. The mid-nineties saw this work expand into sewer and water work as well as concrete and asphalt paving, but always at the core of the company, if you can forgive the pun, is earthworks. It is this side of the business that remains consistent as Professional Excavators adapts, as construction companies must do, along with changing market trends. “Over the past ten years we’ve come in and out of the marketplace through those avenues,” says President Darryl Conroy, “always settling back in with the earthworks side of the business. In the past two to three years the underground side has taken more of a predominant role, not only within the company, but also within the market in the greater Calgary area.”

The ever-evolving Calgary market is a driving force behind my conversation with Conroy, who understands from twenty-seven years in the industry that it is the market that ultimately calls the shots. “So, we keep on diversifying that way,” Conroy says. “And in terms of where the market is in Calgary, it’s very buoyant. There’s lots of opportunity. Net migration is driving single family residential sales and multifamily sales. There’s new tech business filling the shoes of previous oil and gas sector companies that might have been here, or that have adjusted because of the marketplace they’re in. It’s a good time to be at Professional, it’s a good time to be a part of the team, and it’s a good time to take a good look at where our avenues of business are moving forward.”

Construction industry success does not come without a market that fosters it, and so Professional Excavators has the Calgary marketplace to thank for a lot of its achievements over its life to date. But a thriving marketplace teeming with opportunity does not in itself propagate success. There is work to be done on the company’s part to take that opportunity and run with it. Professional Excavators today comes with almost five decades’ experience of doing just that, while establishing that all-important balance between dreaming big and being realistic. For Professional Excavators that means understanding that the market can only be controlled so much, and as a company you must prepare to ride the wave. “One of the things about Calgary is that the market is very volatile,” Conroy says. “When it’s high it’s high, and then it comes down and it’s almost like a reset. It’s like you’re riding a wave and then it crashes, so you could say we’re cautious. We recognize the market that we’re in and we are strategic. We’re not just about roses and sunshine.”

Patterns of net migration are sweeping the greater Calgary area, and this particular market trend continues to have a direct and positive impact on Professional Excavators. This is evident in some of the multifamily developments that the company is involved in. “We’re doing 2 projects for Truman, a multifamily builder in the Greater Calgary area. They’re taking great strides and making sure that their product gets to market in some of the brownfield areas in Calgary. We’re doing primarily earthworks, with some underground concrete and asphalt to come in the spring of 2024.”

Then there’s East Hills, a multifamily development located off 17th Avenue and Stoney Trail in the southeast part of Calgary, and a project for which Professional Excavators provided earthworks and underground services. The project included the installation of a stormceptor system, which is a treatment system that effectively removes pollutants from stormwater and snowmelt runoff. This is just one of the many environmental solutions that Professional Excavators offers to manage its clients and its own environmental impacts. The East Hills project was for Minto Developments and Unitii, a multifamily builder in the greater Calgary area. “It’s a relationship that we’re looking to grow and embrace with all levels of our business. A good relationship with the Minto Unitii team when it comes to competitive pricing, timely construction schedules, and how that aligns with their business from a from a field and operations perspective. It’s just under $700,000 worth of work for us,” Conroy says, “and it all-encompasses everything that we do internally. It was a four-and-a-half-week program in 2023, and with the economy the way it is there’s going to be future opportunities up in Airdrie and all the inner-city lands in the greater Calgary area. That’s what we’re focusing on going into 2024.”

“Always in the background of the work that Professional Excavators does is both environmental solutions and community engagement.”

Another project that highlights Professional Excavators’ strengths as a company is the Calgary Zoo. “We were working as a subtrade to Chandos Construction, who are the General Contractor on site. The structure of the contract is called IPD, which is a performance-based construction process where all the subtrades at every layer of the project come together, have very transparent meetings, talk about changes, cost controls and schedules, to make sure that they deliver the most cost effective, efficient project on behalf of the client. The Polar bear exhibit was the kind of mainstay of the project, and that’s what we call the Canadian Shield portion of the zoo.” The project saw huge volumes of dirt moved and pipe installed, and included earthworks, underground concrete, and asphalt paving. “And of course, being a zoo, it’s a very high-profile project. Very detailed. It was important that the project was delivered on a scheduled basis with the expected arrival of the polar bears. It went through the winter of 2022 to 2023, making sure that we kept our schedule and our commitments as per the contract and as per the group.”

As I speak with Conroy I reminisce on my own travels to Alberta, in particular the Highway 93 route between Banff and Jasper, which is accessible via Calgary. He tells me that such attractions are part of why business in Calgary is where it is. “It’s because of those offsite attractions,” he says. “In my opinion if we were to ever adopt a European style of transport to and from those destinations, if we had the ability to move people in that way, Calgary would be world class. Right now, it’s still quite a challenge.” A challenge, perhaps, that will in time become an opportunity for companies such as Professional Excavators, who Conroy describes as “a team with a lot of strength when it comes to tenure, and with a good history in the Greater Calgary market.” Speaking of opportunity, Conroy tells me about Professional Excavator’s recent move to Java Group which places them under the umbrella of Java Holdings alongside seven subsidiaries. “It’s a great opportunity to reintroduce ourselves to the Calgary market. As part of that we’ll be updating our website, talking about all of our projects, and just doing a good refresh of everything we do. With the Java Group coming on board, it’s opened up a new avenue of business on the power transmission side of the of the industry, which we’ve never dabbled in before. Where we see Professional today may drastically change again with the Java Group. The overall arching umbrella for our seven subsidiaries, that’s going to be a big opportunity for growth and expansion. It’s a new lens, and as the market allows, we will grow in accordance with it.”

Always in the background of the work that Professional Excavators does is both environmental solutions and community engagement. It specializes in evaluating and monitoring potential environmental risks, maintaining environmental awareness, and pollution prevention, while also offering services such as remediation, recycling, haulage, and disposal. As Conroy says, “environmental solutions are all-encompassing in all of the business units we have.” As for community engagement, this comes in many forms such as local charity donations like the CJAY92 Secret Wish. “Involvement with the community comes from every single team member, top to bottom and across all divisions of our business. We are a part of our community’s development, part of the establishment of it, and so we feel it’s our duty to give back support by donating our time, equipment and tools when required.”

For Professional Excavators, the plans for future prosperity in the Calgary market are very clear. “We want to make sure that we find partnerships that are long term invested, not only in Professional Excavators but in the greater Calgary market, and we reciprocate that back to them. We’re focused on making sure there’s a great level of trust and transparency, so when our field team goes out and performs the work, we are adding value. We have great relationships with our stakeholders, vendors, and suppliers and that’s what’s going to allow us to take further steps in the future, to grow in different marketplaces and make sure we’re competitive. We want to have the highest quality and the safest work procedures in the industry, and to push ourselves to be leaders in the marketplace regardless of where we are or what we’re doing. This is what will allow Professional to take the next steps for the next fifty years in the Calgary market.”

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