J.R. Edgett Excavating Ltd.

Meeting Comox Valley’s Excavation Needs

J.R. Edgett Excavating Ltd. (JREE) is a locally owned and operated excavating company operating primarily in the Comox Valley region on the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The Comox-based firm provides high-quality site servicing, road building and utility upgrading. JREE has executed projects for many of the area’s municipal, commercial and infrastructure entities over the years.

In 1965 John R. Edgett began the excavation business as a sole proprietorship. JREE was incorporated in 1975, when John’s brother Ross joined the business. The company grew steadily, specializing in property development and municipal and civil infrastructure.

Bruce Henderson, operations manager for JREE, joined the company in 1994 and became a share holder in the early 2000s. Prior to his role at JREE, Henderson worked as a construction foreman and superintendent for several other Vancouver Island-based firms before settling in Courtenay with his family.

“JREE is a local company with local hires,” says Henderson. “We have a good reputation and good rapport with the many people we work for, plus a lot of long-term employees.”

The company has a team of approximately 30 people during peak summer months. In addition to having employees who have worked with the company for years, JREE also builds lasting relationships with clients. Many jobs the company completes are for customers with whom JREE previously worked. Strong relationships with local town and city municipalities, regional districts, BC Hydro and Defense Construction Canada reinforce both local infrastructure and the region’s economy.

“The biggest thing that sets JREE apart is that all the money stays in the Comox Valley,” says Henderson. Larger excavating companies don’t hold the same homegrown reputation as JREE, which has contributed to building a youth skateboard park, an outdoor basketball court, and a Rotary Kids Park. The company is an avid contributor to the Courtenay and district Fish and Game Association, plus many youth teams and activities.

In 2007 JREE hired an outside safety consultant to help update the company’s safety policies and establish the comprehensive plan that is in place today. With the whole crew committing to the safety plan, the company has a very good work safe record.

Pushing Land Around

JREE has been incorporated for nearly 40 years and has built up quite a portfolio of jobs. The company obtains excavating contracts with private and public entities, and is often called upon to help with site development for large retail centers such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and, most recently, Sobeys Inc., the parent company to Thrifty Foods. JREE’s work includes trucking of raw materials, the installation of water and sewer lines, site clearing, riverbank or beachfront armouring and road construction. Demolition and deconstruction jobs have become additional areas of specialty for JREE.

JREE’s skilled workforce specializes in the excavation and trucking side of the work the company does. The firm requests bids from subcontractors when it comes to the paving, concrete (curbs and gutters) and electrical trades, and JREE has certainly developed a rapport with a number of subcontractors in the area over the years. “Inevitably we work with the same guys quite a lot,” explains Henderson. “We always look at pricing, but just because a guy’s got the cheapest price doesn’t mean he does the best work.”

Different Ways of Excavating

JREE does not rely on merely its reputation and long-term presence in the market to secure work, the company is not satisfied to rest on past achievements; it is constantly looking at ways to improve and expand services to the area. For example, Comox Valley Hydro-Vac Services is a recently launched division of JREE providing a safe, productive and nondestructive method of excavating.

Hydrovacing uses pressurized water and a vacuum system that allows for safe excavation around utilities and pipelines. Pressurized water is injected into the ground to wash the soil away from underground infrastructure. Simultaneously, a vacuum is collecting the resulting slurry through a large debris hose into a storage tank.

JREE added hydrovacing to the services offered to broaden project capabilities. The hydrovac units allow JREE to obtain jobs in utility sector for various needs, including day lighting, excavating, piling holes and exposing sanitary, water and storm lines without incident.

Finding a Middle Ground

JREE is a small company in the scheme of the excavating industry, but the perfect size to service Vancouver Island, according to Henderson. “There is certain point where you’re either too big to be small or too small to be big,” he explains. “I think we’ve found a middle ground. We have a small enough crew that everybody knows everybody.”

The company is holding its own in today’s tough economy. While fuel prices have recently leveled off in Canada, it still takes a lot to run the trucks for various projects.

One thing Henderson finds concerning is the lack of young skilled employees willing to enter the trade. He attributes that to the tar sands oil and mining operations in northern British Columbia and Alberta, which are diverting many new entries to the construction and development industry. Teens out of high school go north to find lucrative jobs and only return to the Vancouver Island area in their late ‘20s or ‘30s, and when these men return they have no interest in learning a new trade in the earthmoving/site development sector.

“With the exception of my youngest son Derek, who has become the company’s estimator, and Ross Edgett’s daughter Tara [a recently minted CGA], finding younger employees who want to learn and train with us is tough,” reflects Henderson.

Despite difficulty finding young laborers to join the team, the company continues to forge ahead, successfully reinforcing both its reputation and the infrastructure within the Comox Valley. Helping enrich Vancouver Island for over four decades, J.R. Edgett Excavating Ltd. will surely remain a trusted local entity for years to come.