Growing with the Community
Taranis emerges from humble beginnings.
By Andrew Macklin
Seventeen years ago, Ryan Jones was just a business student with a good
idea of how to make some extra money during the summer to help pay for
Seventeen years ago, Ryan Jones was just a business student with a good idea of how to make some extra money during the summer to help pay for school.
|Taranis is able to provide full road reconstruction services in Thunder Bay, from water main and sewer pipe replacement to road rehabilitation and paving.|
“I had a tractor with an attachment on the back that dug up gravel paths and smoothed them out in one fluid motion,” said Jones, president of Taranis Contracting in Thunder Bay. “I was doing things like golf cart paths, trails, and other gravel paths in and around Thunder Bay, and that’s where The Gravel Doctor began.”
Fast-forward to 2012. The Gravel Doctor days are behind Jones, as he expanded the operation to become the Taranis Contracting Group in 2009.
Taranis now has an employee base of part-time and full-time staff hovering just under 300, and an extensive breadth of services to offer.
What allowed Taranis to experience its initial growth was Jones’ ability to recognize a window of opportunity. There were not many small-scale gravel operations working in the Thunder Bay area, and none that were offering the sort of gravel landscaping service that he was already providing.
“So when I finished school, I looked at my opportunities and realized there was a real need for a business like mine,” said Jones. “So I put some money together and purchased a second piece of equipment, and The Gravel Doctor began to grow.”
|Taranis maintains eight pits and three quarries that provide aggregate products for its own construction projects, and supplies aggregate to other contractors.|
That growth led the company to acquire its first municipal contract in 2000. Realizing the importance of the contract, and what it could mean for the future of the operation, Jones and his team worked tirelessly to provide the best end product possible. And the municipality responded in turn, paying increased attention to the company’s bids going forward and granting them more work.
“That first municipal project was the catalyst for our business moving forward,” Jones said. “Doing that project right set the foundation for Taranis by creating a reputation of providing high quality work in the community.”
But the opportunity for growth wasn’t just as a result of the first municipal contract. There were few large contracting companies operating around Thunder Bay, and many outside interests, who were bidding on municipal and provincial road building contracts in the region, didn’t necessarily have an appreciation for the terrain, distance or climate in which the work needed to be done. There was room for a local solution, a company that understood the terrain, distance and climate demands on paving and roadbuilding projects in the region. So Jones positioned his company to fill the void.
The range of services that Taranis offers has grown dramatically across the last 10 years. The company now has the equipment, and manpower, to provide a wide range of construction, demolition, environmental and maintenance services. It also carries an extensive range of asphalt and aggregate products, supplied by eight pits and three quarries spread throughout the Thunder Bay region. Those supplies facilitate the company’s ability to not only provide premium local services for large construction and roadbuilding projects, but also offer those same services to small towns several hundred kilometres away in remote parts of northern Ontario.
Boost from infrastructure spending
The expansion of Taranis’ business was also fuelled by the political drive to improve the infrastructure of the metropolitan Thunder Bay area.
|Across the road from Taranis’ head office is a distribution facility that also includes a stationary paving plant and crushing equipment.|
Significant investments have been made in the past five years by both the municipal and provincial governments to improve the infrastructure in Thunder Bay in an effort to renew a city devastated by the crash of the forestry industry in 2006. As a result, Taranis has had to expand its workforce and its services in order to meet the community’s growing demand for infrastructure renewal.
Investments have led to significant upgrades to the downtown core and waterfront areas to help boost business and tourism opportunities. That work has included road and sewer reconstruction in the downtown core, demolition and land clearing of old business opportunities to create new land for redevelopment, and the highly anticipated Prince Arthur’s Landing waterfront development project. Many of these projects have involved Taranis for at least one phase of the project based on the services they are able to provide.
Infrastructure investments in the region have also resulted in the upgrade of several of the major highways leading in and out of Thunder Bay. One such project undertaken by Taranis was the reconstruction of a 16-kilometre stretch of Highway 61, the lone highway leading south from Thunder Bay towards the Minnesota border. The challenges of paving a major artery may be standard in most regions of the country; however, with few options for detours, Taranis had to be very careful in how much of the highway was closed down at any given time. They also knew that a three-kilometre stretch would need a dual layer based on the quality of the previous base that had been laid. In addition, the already tumultuous weather conditions played even more havoc on the project than expected. That only added to the difficulty involved in what should have been a standard reconstruction and paving project.
Managing its assets
One of the challenges in keeping up with a growing staff, and an increasing number of pits and quarries, has been managing the growth of the company’s heavy equipment assets.
|Taranis was responsible for the rehabilitation of a large stretch of Highway 61 in 2011. The highway is a major trade route linking the Thunder Bay region with the state of Minnesota.|
“We have always believed in buying the piece of equipment we need when it’s needed rather than in anticipation of future needs,” said Jones. “That way, we know the purchase is being made based on revenue that is coming in to our operation.”
The majority of Taranis’ equipment has been purchased through a longstanding strong working relationship with the Cat Toromont dealership in Thunder Bay. Most of the haulers, loaders, excavators, pavers and drum rollers in its fleet are from Cat thanks to a track record of quality equipment, parts and service provided by its local dealer.
However, Jones has also taken advantage of the industry’s top North American trade show in order to meet another of his equipment needs. Faced with needing to purchase a new fleet of crushing equipment, Jones and his team travelled to World of Concrete in Las Vegas in 2011 to look at their options. It was there he met representatives from Goodfellow Crushers in Utah, who were on hand with the latest crushing equipment from KPI-JCI.
“We were really impressed by what they had to say about KPI-JCI’s line of crushers,” said Jones. “So we decided to buy from them, even though there were equipment options closer to home. The service they have provided since the purchase has been really strong.”
Changes to the Ministry of Transportation’s road quality standards have also dictated the need for some additional equipment purchases, purchases not expected by Taranis. MTO has made several changes to its specifications for highway roadbuilding and paving, especially in regards to smoothness. In 2011, as a result of the work Taranis was doing on Highway 61 south of the city, the company had to purchase a High Speed Profilograph to guarantee they could meet the province’s newest specifications. After researching the available products on the market, the company decided to purchase the truck-mounted smoothness reader being offered by SSI, which it mounted on one of the Ford trucks in its company fleet. That reader has allowed them to continue to meet the newest demands from MTO.
“The Ministry has made a number of changes to their specifications in recent years which have forced us to purchase new equipment and change the way we run our operations,” said Jones. “It makes it difficult to properly quote some of the provincial work sometimes, as you don’t necessarily always have an appreciation for the additional equipment and work hours these changes will add to the bottom line of the project.”
While business is strong right now, there is a tough road ahead for the industry in northern Ontario. As is the case across the Canadian rock to road landscape, a looming worker shortage has the potential to impact Taranis’ business.
In response, the company has taken a proactive approach by opening up a training school arm of its operation. That training arm includes courses in heavy-duty equipment operation of rubber tire backhoe loaders, bulldozers and excavators, as well as skid steers and graders. In addition, it also offers a free DZ truck driving course.
“We know that we need to be able to offer something more in order to make sure that we have the trained personnel in our operation. By offering our own training school, we have a better opportunity to attract new employees to Taranis by offering to train them ourselves.”
With the success that Taranis has had in northern Ontario over the past 17 years, it is tough to imagine anything derailing the company’s growth. But with mining operations in the Ring of Fire region of northern Ontario likely to pull employees away from aggregate and forestry operations throughout the area in the next few years, natural resource and infrastructure-based operations could be in jeopardy of losing their ability to compete with outside interests.
For now, Taranis will continue to make its mark as one of the most sought-after contractors, gravel providers and roadbuilders in northern Ontario.