Rural infrastructure: How investment in local companies makes the difference

In 2021 there were over 43,000 people employed in the construction industry in Saskatchewan contributing $4.4 billion to the provincial gross domestic product. A segment of this industry is the telecom construction sector, a sector critical to the future of our province.

The federal government through ISED and CRTC programs has invested tens of millions of dollars into the province and the telco providers such as FlexNetworks, SaskTel, Access Communications and Shaw/Rogers have invested many more millions of dollars. The purpose of this investment is clear. Unless all citizens in the province have access to abundant internet, they will be left behind and become less relevant.

Much of this investment supports local small and mid-sized telecommunication construction companies operating across the province. These are the companies that are bridging the digital divide, installing fibre optic cable that provides the access to abundant internet and enable cell phones by connecting the cell towers.

Saskatchewan is blessed with talented entrepreneurs who not only build the infrastructure to provide broadband access but directly contribute greatly to the provincial economy and well-being. Success stories that not many know about.

Primary Engineering and Construction’s Telecom Division grew from a staff of one in the Regina office in 2016, to an amazing 79 employees across Canada with 24 in the Regina headquarters alone. Primary’s well-versed teams work with all the telecommunications providers to provide highly skilled, high-quality services.

Primary offers construction management services throughout the build portion of the project to ensure that the work is delivered efficiently. In addition to providing key assistance in the feasibility study and successful government application processes, Primary is responsible for design and permit work, materials management, procurement, project management, and administration, as required. “The fibre network in Canada today is as important as railway was 150 years ago,” says Matthew Beynham, vice president Telecoms at Primary.

CanNorth Manager Sheri Korpess on-site. Photo courtesy of CanNorth

Respect for the environment and compliance with environmental regulations is foremost for the construction across rural Saskatchewan. One company instrumental to ensuring projects meet or exceed environmental standards is Canada North Environmental Services (CanNorth). As onsite monitors, CanNorth works to ensure environmental permit conditions are met. CanNorth employs qualified and experienced aquatic biologists, hydrologists, wildlife biologists, botanists, toxicologists, risk assessors, archaeologists, soil scientists, human environment specialists, GIS/AutoCAD specialists as well as approximately 35 Indigenous contract staff. Another Saskatchewan success story, CanNorth is one of the largest environmental service providers in Western Canada. Headquartered in Saskatoon, CanNorth is a member of the business arm of Lac La Ronge Indian Band.

Also headquartered in Saskatoon, Sabtronics Telecommunications Corporation utilizes the latest advances in tools for fibre optic splicing, testing, electrical components, and a host of other services critical to the build, operate and maintain these advanced networks. Matt Hooper had the insight and initiative to launch Sabtronic Telecommunication in 2021 and the company now employs 10 highly qualified technicians operating across the province. They are growing the company by diversifying into other sectors beyond telecom to clients who have need for their services.

Hooper has a strong sense of team. Teamwork among the employees of Sabtronic Telecommunications and teamwork and collaboration among the companies in the telecom construction industry. “Teamwork and collaboration among our employees and across the companies we work with in the telecom sector. Is critical to our success. We are excited to be a part of closing the digital divide,” explains Hooper.

On one major rural fibre optic project east of Saskatoon, there are over 20 local Saskatchewan firms involved. All of them contribute to the quality of the project, all contribute to the economy of the province, and all are proudly committed to bridging the divide for residents of rural Saskatchewan. Many companies provide very specialized services and directly support small town Saskatchewan.

Meach Construction operates out of the town of Cabri. Owned and operated by Shaun Meachem, Meach Construction provides the turn-key foundations for the buildings that house sophisticated electronic gear, the heart of the network. The key to Meach’s success is quality, and meeting client needs through agility, and flexibility. Building fibre optic networks across Saskatchewan is good business for Shaun, good business for rural Saskatchewan and in this case, good for the town of Cabri.

Competition in the Saskatchewan Telecom sector has spurred additional investment into the province. This investment has created hundreds of new jobs, vaulted local companies to become successful national leaders and spurred growth in the Saskatchewan economy. Importantly, the investment is helping to bridge the digital divide for many Saskatchewan residents.

But this is certainly not a ‘one and done’ story but an ever-expanding journey. Decades old fibre optics is coming to end of life (remember Nortel in Saskatoon?) and the prevalent copper ‘twisted pair’ cable has become obsolete. Providing abundant internet to all citizens and replacing the old infrastructure will see continued growth in the telecom construction industry for decades to come.