Tron Power Inc.
Tron Power Inc. (Tron) is a full-service general contractor providing a range of electrical, mechanical and civil construction services throughout Saskatchewan. The company conveniently operates out of offices in two prime industrial areas of Saskatchewan: Saskatoon, which is right in the middle of the province, and Patuanak, which is 500 kilometers north of Saskatoon and close to the heart of the mining industry in Canada.
Established by Des Nedhe Development Inc. (DND) on behalf of the English River First Nation (ERFN), Tron is well-positioned to offer top quality services to not only the mining communities, but also including First Nation communities and federal and provincial governments.
The company that would become Tron Power Inc. actually began as Tron Power Ltd. in 1985. In 1997 its assets and senior management were acquired by the ERFN, making it a business with 100-percent aboriginal ownership. Kris Reynolds and Doug Reynolds – Tron’s human resources supervisor and vice president, respectively – are both ERFN band members, as are many of Tron’s 22 in-office employees. Tron’s overall size is much bigger, with 70 to 120 tradespeople on jobsites at any given time. The company is a major force in Saskatchewan and a source of immense pride for the ERFN band.
Jim Elliot, originally a journeyman electrician and currently CEO and president of DND, was responsible for the birth of Tron, a company that initially got off the ground by focusing on electrical work, servicing substations in northern Saskatchewan. Tron gradually expanded its offerings to include mechanical and civil work, heavy earth-moving, pipelining and environmental cleanup, becoming a full-service general contractor throughout Saskatchewan. Work became more concentrated in the north, however, as the mining industry took hold of that region and Tron became entrenched in underground work.
The company has an in-house estimating, engineering, accounting, mobile powered equipment training and management team, and is financially secure under its umbrella organization, DND, which was established in 1991 by the ERFN band and serves as a mighty economic arm. This allows Tron to be completely self-financing, a characteristic that distinguishes the company from the majority of First Nation ventures in Canada.
Able to Stand on Its Own
Tron truly stands out as a First Nation company by being entirely self-sustaining. Elliot explains, “We can go out and do any work on our own. That’s what sets us apart. We don’t have to use joint venture partners to achieve our goals.” This is extremely rare, as many First Nation companies undertake joint ventures with large companies out of financial necessity.
“We’re doing all the capital work for the uranium mines, and we have our own real estate company,” Elliot explains. As a self-sufficient company, Tron also rarely subs out work unless it is milling-related. Tron is committed to training band members and local residents (in various jobsite locales) in many trades, including plumbing and pipefitting, electrical and welding, and the company subsequently has one of the strongest crews of highly skilled, professional First Nation tradespeople in Canada.
The company maintains a database of certified tradespeople, including electricians (able to install power substations and generators and construct and maintain operating plants); industrial and heavy equipment mechanics (with capabilities in heavily reinforced concrete, structural steel, road building, reinforced rebar, foundations and batch plant supply); welders (certified Butt Fusion technicians and ticketed pressure welders); plus plumbers and pipefitters (who handle a variety of pumps, tanks and pipes including stainless steel, carbon, copper, PVC and high-density polyethylene).
Due to these diverse offerings, Tron has the capabilities to handle several large projects simultaneously, and is able to employ and train a huge number of workers. “We hire not only members of our own band, but we also hire members from other bands in the areas where we are working,” Elliot explains. “We have the ability in-house to accommodate outside people into our family.”
Deep into Uranium Mining
If you head north from Tron’s office in Saskatoon, passing the distinct mix of prairie, deciduous and boreal forest that makes up Prince Albert National Park, you’ll arrive at Tron’s main office in Patuanak, the home of seven different reserves belonging to the ERFN band. Shallow lakes caused by ancient glaciers are abundant in the surrounding area, and this water-rich area is where uranium mining abounds. Understandably, Tron’s niche is in uranium mining, especially in the chemical aspects of the industry, and it is in this sector where Tron often partners with additional communities.
Tron is involved with several underground development projects at uranium mines in northern Saskatchewan. Joint venture projects are pursued at will, and Tron is currently partnered with Thyssen Mining, one of the largest mining contractors in Canada, through Tron’s subsidiary Mudjatik Enterprises Inc. The long-standing venture, known as Mudjatik Thyssen Mining Joint Venture (MTMJV), completes contracted projects at a number of northern uranium mines.
MTMJV employs approximately 700 people at its active operating sites, including McArthur River Mine, which is one of the largest uranium mines in the world, and the Eagle Point and Cigar Lake Mines. Fifty percent of these workers are aboriginal and fall under Tron’s umbrella.
Key Lake Mine is another jobsite location where Tron can be found, as the company is part of an extensive revamping project to accommodate a brand new mine site. Since 2007, Tron has been responsible for a number of construction projects at Key Lake, including supplying the concrete for the new acid steam and oxygen plant and completing 100 percent of the water line piping and welding.
This spring the Cigar Lake area will pull approximately three dozen of Tron’s electricians for underground work for the development of a 480-metre-deep mine with ground freezing and high-pressure water jets capacities, which are used to excavate ore. The $1.8 billion project is set to conclude in mid-2013.
Across all of its many projects, Tron judges success through customer satisfaction and relishes the fact that there are rarely client issues or disruptions to company morale. As Elliot says proudly, “We are a family. Everybody gets along. Everybody knows what their job is and gets it done.”
Over the next few years, the Tron family will undergo a transition period, shifting power within the company as new roles are assumed due to impending retirements, including Elliot’s own. However, as far as challenges go, there haven’t been many. “We’ve maintained our employment, our band members and our training programs for those in the north,” Elliot says. For this and many reasons, including the company's reputation for reliable, cost-effective, collaborative services, Tron Power Inc. will be a source of pride and continued success for the English River First Nation band for many years to come.