A Home Away From Home

Noralta Lodge

Most would agree that there’s certainly no place like home. Home is our refuge from the masses, our comfort zone and the place that houses families and memories. Yet sometimes, the need arises for one to leave familiar surroundings for economic reasons, namely finding employment. It’s a difficult decision for the families involved, but quite often a necessity.

Noralta Lodge Ltd. (“Noralta Lodge”), with headquarters in Nisku, Alberta, recognizes the need for accommodation and a comfort zone for those employed in Alberta’s northern oil sands and other ongoing projects, particularly in Fort McMurray.

Housing in Fort McMurray is scarce and expensive, with many people coming from other parts of Canada to find employment. For this reason many job seekers try to find accommodation in work camps close to their place of employment. Such accommodations can be found at Noralta Lodge, referred to as lodges and not camps because, says CEO Greg Cameron, “We feel that our lodges are unique… that’s our mindset. It’s not a camp. It’s a different attitude, a different atmosphere, a different level of engagement, respect and customer service.”

With nine lodges in total, six currently operational in the Fort McMurray region and one more currently being constructed in the same area for 2013, Noralta Lodge offers lodging solutions that offer quality, affordability and excellent food services – a resolve to commit to total customer satisfaction.

Greg acknowledges that the Noralta Lodge experience begins with its team members, who are motivated and committed to ensuring that facilities offer a safe, pleasant and comfortable place to be for those seeking a “home away from home.”

Anticipating a Need

As a family owned and operated business since 1997, Noralta Lodge provides accommodations to thousands of workers or “guests”. All lodge locations are situated in close proximity to northern Alberta’s oil and gas work sites. “Workers don’t want to travel more than half an hour to and from work,” explains Greg.

He adds that in the Fort McMurray region, the guest’s employer, such as Suncor or Shell, will usually provide bussing to and from the work site because of infrastructure limitations. “The focus, from a safety perspective, is to get as many vehicles off the road as possible,” he adds. “The requirements for infrastructure are so significant… The infrastructure just isn’t in place. [The municipality] doesn’t have the highway or rapid transit systems in place yet to get the workers to and from the job site safely, efficiently and effectively, but is working hard to meet all those demands.”

Noralta Lodge anticipates a growing demand for quality food and lodging accommodations throughout northern Alberta, specifically in the Fort McMurray area, where Greg acknowledges, “There is so much activity going on. If you look at the projected capital expenditures for the various producers up here, it’s in the hundreds of billions of dollars. They can’t spend that money without having people on the ground.” According to varied studies that have been conducted on the region, there are at least 100 years of energy source at projected mining rates in Alberta. “We like that,” Greg says. “There’s a long term play here.”

Continuing Growth

Noralta Lodge has experienced a significant increase in staffing in the past nine months and with the opening of its three new lodges in early 2013 and with one more to open, the need for staffing will only continue to increase. “The projects that we’re proposing and implementing are effective, right and also make sense for the region as a whole,” says Greg. Currently Noralta Lodge employs approximately 750 team members.

Noralta Lodge’s facilities vary depending on size, and range from 200 to 750 rooms. The Fort McMurray lodges have between 550 and 750 rooms. The lodges are based on a minimum 25 year usage and a rigorous maintenance program ensures that the lodges remain comfortable and functional throughout their life span. The lodges are “semi-permanent” and can be moved if necessary.

Greg explains that the maximum number of rooms per lodge reflects a planned strategy. “We’ve kept them under that maximum size on purpose,” he says. “We feel that if it’s over that number of rooms the facilities become too institutionalized.” At this size, team members will recognize guests after three or four days, greeting them by name. “Our team members know if guests belong in our facility or not,” says Greg. Each facility develops its own distinct culture, a sense of community where guests develop a mentality of involvement and engagement. “We expect residents to be respectful of other guests and our team members,” he adds.

Attracting the Best

Noralta Lodge prides itself on its competent management style and genuine caring service to all guests, and the company is aware of the challenge of attracting and retaining staff in Alberta’s remote areas. To that end, Noralta Lodge has a robust screening program for prospective team members to ensure that those being hired are the right fit for the job. “We don’t take everyone,” says Greg, adding that, “We do detailed interview screening so that the people that we hire aren’t going to be surprised by the job that they’re asked to do.”

Greg emphasizes that team members are Noralta Lodge’s greatest asset and that, “We’re always focused on our team members, provide good pay, long term stability and opportunities for advancement… If our team members are feeling respected and feeling part of the process, this flows through to our guests.”

Indeed, team members enjoy the same amenities as guests with separate quarters which include laundry, recreation and fitness facilities. Additionally, Noralta Lodge provides transportation for team members to and from Edmonton at no additional cost. “We fly our own people in a Dash-8 aircraft,” continues Greg, “which cuts about five to six hours off the trip, one way. They get home much quicker.”

A big part of creating a warm, welcoming environment, of course, is keeping things safe. Noralta Lodge is proud to have been the first industrial lodge in Alberta to receive a Certificate of Recognition, (COR). Working closely with the Partnership in Injury Reduction Program (PIR), through the Alberta Hotel Safety Association, Noralta Lodge maintains COR status by conducting external Health and Safety audits annually. The company aims to exceed industry standards and has done so by continually improving and updating its Health and Safety Program. “We try to ensure our team members are in as good shape when they leave as when they got here,” Greg adds. “We make people aware that safety isn’t only about the individual, but the person working next to them. Everybody has to be safe or nobody’s safe.”

Occupancy Rates

Rates for lodging at Noralta Lodge include all amenities such as: daily prepared gourmet meals with 24-7 access to the dining room, with an all you can eat policy, including diabetic meals and cultural foods; pillow-top mattresses; a flat-screen high-definition television with digital service in every room; high speed internet and a phone in each room; free laundry facilities on each wing; fitness centre; and game rooms.

Greg notes that the occupancy rate tends to fluctuate, especially in north central Alberta where it’s difficult to work in the summers. Frozen ground is required to get in to and out of certain areas, so there’s a tendency to be especially busy in the winter. Fort McMurray however, is less seasonally dependent but very much dependent on company workforce demand. “On an annual basis companies have a turnaround,” Greg says. “They shut down to do maintenance, reconditioning and start back up again.”

Still, there is a 60 to 75 percent occupancy rate year round at the lodges and as Greg says, “The smoother the occupancy, the smoother things will work for us. It’s very efficient for us at these occupancy levels.”

When asked if Noralta Lodge would consider investing in areas outside of Alberta, Greg explained that it is a possibility, as the Company has had requests from companies for lodges outside of Alberta, such as in British Colombia and Saskatchewan. But at the current time, “We do like working in northern Alberta. Our ownership and most of those who work for us grew up in northern Alberta, so we understand that,” he says. “So far we’ve restricted ourselves kind of by design… keeping up with the demand from our customers and guests in northern Alberta.”

Home Away from Home

Noralta Lodge sets a high bar for both its guests and team members. The Company wants its lodges to be recognized as places for a “good quality stay,” places that can be seen as the next best thing to being home.

Greg defines Noralta Lodge’s mission simply: “We’re a place where we’re proud to have family and friends stay and work,” he says. “Our core values reflect strong family values: a safe work environment; opportunities for our dedicated team members; fair and equal treatment of our guests and team members; and to treat all with respect and humility. That’s the standard we try to live by every day.”

September 25, 2017, 4:14 PM EDT

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