Constructing the City from the Ground Up

This time last year, UDI – Edmonton Metro hosted a conversation with three icons of urban development. The discussion identified several key takeaways – the importance of public/private sector collaboration, growth, proactive storytelling, and industry diversity.

On March 16, with more than 200 members in attendance, UDI hosted a similar panel but with trailblazers in the construction industry – those who help shape our spaces, places, and communities literally from the ground up.

Moderated by Kayla Carnovale of DES Engineering, Dan Hamilton (DES Engineering), Bruce Hagstrom (Sureway Construction), Crystal Pihowich (WCL), and Jim Allen (Jatec Ltd.), shared their insights on how the industry has evolved, lessons they have learned, and what the years ahead have in store for us. Collectively, these panelists represent 171 years of experience in the real estate development industry.

Hagstrom began his career in construction in 1971 as a field technologist. He later joined Sureway in 1975, and since then, has been part of its development into one of Alberta’s leading civil construction companies.

As Sureway’s President, Hagstrom has focused much of his attention towards environmental regulation and reclamation, with an imperative on a greening economy.

“A lot has changed,” said Hagstrom. “With new technologies, our construction practices and processes have had to evolve. That’s what exciting about what we do – we must constantly innovate, stay sharp, and make things better for our communities and cities.”

Pihowich agreed with Hagstrom, who she worked with at Sureway for nearly 10 years.

“We should strive towards becoming greener,” said Pihowich. “Some tangible ways to do this is to upgrade our fleets and to track our emissions.”

In 1999, Pihowich joined the construction industry as an equipment operator. In 2016, she made her way over to WCL as their Construction Manager, managing field operations for land development and infrastructure work.

It was clear during the panel how closely-knit all speakers were; how those in the industry either start out at the same companies, are hired by one another, or create companies together.

In fact, Hamilton and Allen grew up together. They started Jatec back in 1986.

“We were in a coffee shop, pulled out the Yellow Pages, and created our client base,” Hamilton recalled. He later joined forces with Al Thomas at DES Engineering, where he presently serves as President and Senior Director.

When asked about municipal and utility processes, Hamilton said, “Affordability is what we are striving to achieve. While we have seen regulatory improvements in our region, we need to continue to ensure our standards are logical and ultimately keep costs down for the end-user.”

He urged industry to get involved with municipalities and utilities – to communicate what is needed to make development easier.

“There are many ideas that municipalities have, but someone’s got to implement them, and that’s us,” he added.

Allen, founder and CEO of Jatec, has been a master electrician for over 40 years, with experience in commercial electrical, underground utility, and civil construction projects.

Allen shifted the conversation to how the industry has adapted as technology has changed.

“Before, we used to grab a shovel and locate things by digging,” he joked. “We now have technology that can locate everything underground, so we know where and where not to dig – that helps us do a lot less damage to the environment.”

Pihowich noted how GPS has enabled the industry to be more accurate and efficient.

“Information and file sharing is so important – from design to field,” she said. “Before, Bruce (Hagstrom) would have had to drive to a job shack on-site to find a two-way radio to communicate.”

To close the conversation, Carnovale asked the group to think about the future of the industry. Collectively, all panelists pointed to people as being the biggest challenge and opportunity.

“We need to show people that they can make a successful career in this industry, that they have a future here,” Pihowich said.

Thanks to our sponsors: Select Engineering Consultants (Presenting), S3 Precast (Host Bar), Hi Signs (Lunch), and Edmonton Construction Association (Dessert).

5 Key Takeaways

  • Keep the region affordable. We need to streamline municipal and utility processes and regulations, as they can impact and add costs to the end-user, eroding affordability in the region.
  • Build bridges. The industry literally builds the spaces and places that connect people. We also need to build relationships and collaborate with clients, developers, municipalities, and more.
  • Embrace technology. We can use evolve and adapt as an industry when we face technological shifts head-on. Leverage new tools as ways to better our practices and business models.
  • Go green. We need to embrace greener approaches to our industry by enhancing our practices and equipment and holding ourselves accountable.
  • Attract talent and labour. People are our most important asset. We need to highlight the benefits of working in our industry so we can attract the best and brightest to help build our communities.