Dibco Underground Ltd.: Keeping Pace in a Fast-growing Industry

Ed Dimillo is president of Dibco Underground Ltd. (Dibco), and he is the first to admit that the kind of work the Bolton, Ontario-based company has become known for isn’t for everyone. “Our primary line of work is in tunnels and shafts related to the sewer and water main system or heavy construction, and being underground all day 35 meters below the ground and two kilometers in for 10 hours a day isn’t everyone’s idea of a good job,” says Dimillo.

Though much of Dibco’s experience relates to work in the underground utilities, not all of it has been for water and sewer systems. Every project that receives Dibco’s expertise is memorable, however. “We did some work at Niagara Falls for the Maid of the Mist building the elevator shaft and the wooden viewing areas as well,” says Dimillo. “And we also worked as a subcontractor to Thomas Fuller Construction lowering parts of the Library of Parliament to create a new mechanical room and a tunnel for a secret elevator.”

Expanding Markets

Despite the challenging nature of Dibco’s industry, the company has made a name for itself as an expert in a field with few competitors and a wealth of job opportunities. “There are maybe four other companies in the country doing this kind of work and all of them are in Ontario,” explains Dimillo. “Even though this work isn’t necessarily dangerous, it’s very complicated, and we have to deal with a number of unknowns every day. We’re not just digging below the street. We’re digging beneath huge buildings and around utilities, so it’s a complicated thing. Unlike companies that can do open-cut work, we can’t actually see where we are going.”

These days, Dibco is working across Canada from its head office and into the United States with a satellite office in Mt. Clemens, Mich., as work in the relatively small sector booms across North America. “We are not struggling at all in this economy,” says Dimillo. “We just finished up work in Austin, Texas, and we work in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pennsylvania, as well as across Canada, including Calgary. We try to stay away from the big, big complicated cities like New York, Chicago and Boston, though, and we don’t do any oilfield work.”

In general, the firm works primarily for municipal and governmental clients, and with the boom in industry out west and throughout Ontario, Dibco suffers only from a dearth of qualified employees.

“Our biggest challenge by far is finding enough people to do the work,” laments Dimillo. “We’re not even a very seasonal business either. We have been working at a consistent pace for 14 years now and the only thing we can do is to act as a signatory to the local unions. So we have had to work really hard to train the members they send us and train them from the very beginning. In the past year or so, we have even brought experienced workers up from the States to help us, but there’s just too much work for a country as small as Canada and it’s hard for us to keep up.”

Looking Ahead

Currently, Dibco is working on a joint venture partnership, as well as planning for an eventual succession. “We are working with two Spanish partners for the Northerly Tunnel Subway, and aside from that I’m hoping I’ll get to retire one day,” confesses Dimillo.

“Right now the economy is very strong for us and our industry is booming. The work coming out of Alberta and Saskatchewan and Vancouver is incredible,” continues Dimillo. “My biggest concern is not really being able to find the workers to do the labor, because we can train them, it’s more that I worry about being able to find the right management and experienced workers to carry on through the next generations. It’s getting to the point here where we just can’t keep up and companies from the United States and Europe are coming in, because we just don’t have the experienced manpower to do it.”

With activity high in the industry, Dimillo expects the situation to improve along with the economy. “We are a country with an incredible amount of natural resources, and in an economy where oil is king we’re sitting on a whole lot of oil,” affirms Dimillo. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the economy is getting better, and there are companies in Saskatchewan and Alberta encouraging us to come out and work, so it’s really a fantastic time for this industry. As a country, we’re going infrastructure crazy and there’s a phenomenal amount of work and we just have to try and keep up.”

Having already proved itself capable of assembling the resources to work in an industry with many variables, Dibco Underground Ltd. is primed to take advantage of new market opportunities as fast as Dimillo can train new staff.