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Polaris Minerals Corporation: Mineral Extraction for Construction Material in North America
Marco Romero founded Polaris Minerals Corporation (Polaris) in 2000 as a construction aggregates owner with majority ownership in three growing quarry operations and distribution locations across western North America. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Polaris holds 88 percent ownership in the Orca Sand and Gravel Quarry on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island; 70 percent ownership of the Eagle Rock Quarry Project, roughly 15 miles south of Port Alberni, British Columbia. Additionally, the company is 70 percent owner of the Richmond Terminal in California, utilized to receive and distribute Orca products to customers across the state. The business has also gained rights to a second location in Long Beach, Calif., which Polaris intends to develop for better distribution access for the Los Angeles market.
Herb Wilson, president and CEO of Polaris, currently leads the business, with Romero still active as a director at the company. Wilson explains that the company’s structure is what sets Polaris apart from other materials providers. “Romero founded this business to find sources of construction aggregate such as crushed rock, sand and gravel used to manufacture asphalt,” he says. “In coastal California, a lot of the resources for this material have completely run out. It has also become impossible to get permits in many of these locations. With deposits exhausted it is very difficult to find a replacement source. We examined the West Coast to find the next generation of replacement sources and British Columbia was pretty promising.”
“Romero had a very practical approach,” Wilson continues. “He did not want to go out and find a deposit only to end up fighting the courts over the rights to work it. So he developed a partnership with the ‘Namgis First Nation. We work with them to extract materials at Orca Sand and Gravel Quarry and they have 12 percent ownership of the operation. With Eagle Rock Quarry, the remaining 30 percent interest is divided between the Hupacasath and Ucluelet First Nations.” The partnership has been mutually beneficial, giving Polaris access to the land while also providing revenue into the three nations who control the land.
“Our company has been held as a strong model of how to work with and construct agreements with First Nations,”Wilson adds. “Half of our employees are of First Nation. With 50 employees, we have a very efficient production unit. Orca is one of the 10 largest quarries in Canada and we did between three and four million tons in sales this year. It all leaves in 80,000-ton loading vessel owned by Canada Steamships. The process is efficient as we are only 25 miles from San Francisco. We are the only supplier that enters the five terminals there that receive aggregates.”
Polaris materials have been used in several major projects over the last few years. “Our products make up the foundation of the new Bay Bridge in San Francisco as well as the siding of the Golden Gate Bridge,” Wilson elaborates. “Our aggregate is in Trump Tower and Casino. The first contracts for paving the Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu ran trials with Polaris materials with exceptionally good results. Our aggregate is being used on new highway tunnels from Oakland, Calif., through the hills.”
Fighting the Downturn
Polaris’ structure and high quality products have kept the business stable throughout the recession. The collapse of the market, change in currency values and growing transportation costs all had detrimental effects on the aggregate business. “The Canadian dollar is stronger while the value of U.S. currency has gone down,” Wilson explains. “Our production costs are in Canadian dollars, but we sell to businesses in America. With what has happened to world oil prices has also presented challenges. Shipping rates have skyrocketed with fuel surcharges.”
Access to materials and the quality of produced aggregate have kept Polaris in the game. “We produce the highest quality of sand and gravel you can buy,” Wilson explains. “That is helpful when you are fighting a very difficult and competitive market. Our materials are used in prestigious products with consistent market value as well, despite the fact that the demand for our product in California fell by 50 percent between 2006 and 2011. Fortunately we are seeing the beginning of the recovery in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is our largest market.”
As the market makes a comeback, Polaris is set up to continue growth. “In five years of production, we won three provincial safety awards,” Wilson adds. “That aspect is very important to the local community. The other major industry in our area is logging, which has a high accident rate.” The company’s safety record eases minds, but it also helps to reduce down time and lost overhead while increasing the appeal for dedicated employees. Polaris Minerals Corporation maintains a positive, mutually beneficial relationship with its partners in business while providing a solution to the demand from the construction market just to the south.