A Strong Presence in the Resource Sector

Rénald Côté Inc

In 2007, Marc Riverin was ready to retire. Six years later, he’s now president of one of Canada’s fastest growing construction companies.

Mr. Riverin and his business partner, Michel Miller, saw tremendous potential for growth in northern Québec’s construction sector, with the region experiencing a boom in resource extraction and public works projects. The two bought into Rénald Côté Inc (RCI), bringing with them valuable capital that would propel the company forward, along with invaluable experience as veteran entrepreneurs.

The rush on resource development in northern Québec may not make the daily news in the rest of Canada, however the phenomenal expansion in production throughout the region has seen the port at Sept-Îles, Québec, the only means for getting the north’s rich iron ore reserves onto international markets, become the third largest port in Canada by volume shipped.

Iron ore, used in the production of steel, has been one of the driving forces behind the region’s economic boom.

RCI’s roots date back over 30 years to when it was founded by its namesake, Rénald Côté, in Baie-Comeau, Québec. The company’s original focus was excavation for the mining industry, however over time, building on its base of equipment, it expanded into other mining and construction work.

In 1998 the company was sold to Marc Labrie, a civil engineer with over 20 years experience, and a member of the Innu Nation, the indigenous peoples of Québec’s Côte-Nord. Since its inception, the company has expanded its operations to include road and rail work, environmental projects, snow removal, and a variety of civil engineering services.

In 2007, Mr. Riverin and Mr. Miller acquired the company and in the subsequent reorganization, brought on an additional civil engineer, Mario Laberge. The company was modestly rebranded as Rénald Côté 2007 Inc., and has enjoyed unprecedented success under its new leadership.

In the year following Mr. Riverin and Mr. Miller’s accession to the helm of RCI, the company completed four projects totalling $2 960 000, including a major contract with Scieries Kruger to upgrade landfills for the communities of Ragueneau and Longue-Rive, southwest of Baie-Comeau. In 2012, the company brought in over forty times that amount, completing $120 000 000 worth of contracts.

Some of RCI’s remarkable growth is surely attributable to the work it has done for Arcelor Mittal and Cliffs Natural Resources, two mining companies that have been tapping into the region’s abundant supply of iron ore.

Mr. Riverin himself has been particularly implicated in the notable Bloom Lake mining development outside of Fermont, Québec. The iron ore mine, originally operated by Consolidated Thompson, was initially estimated to have a life of 34 years, drawing from an estimated 640 million tonnes of ore. Those initial estimates have since proven to be quite conservative. RCI has been implicated in the mine since 2009, completing over $20 million worth of civil engineering contracts, $2 million for the construction of tailings facilities, and $1.5 million for the construction of water intake for the processing facilities.

In addition to the open-pit mine itself, the site contains a concentrator to produce an iron concentrate. The concentrator utilizes single stage crushing, an AG mill and gravity separation in the process of modifying the ore. RCI prepared the construction sites for the concentrator at Lake Bloom and other sites.

In 2011, Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources acquired Consolidated Thompson for $4.9 billion, beginning its own relationship with RCI. The quality work done for Consolidated Thompson did not go unnoticed, with RCI being retained for a growing number of contracts in the year that followed. Continued development in Fermont would bring in another $45 million from Cliffs alone for Riverin and Miller. Cliffs has also initiated Phase II of the Lake Bloom project, which entails an expansion at the mine that will double its production capacity from 8 metric tonnes to 16 metric tonnes of product per year, spelling good things ahead for RCI.

The second phase of the Lake Bloom project has provided RCI some exciting opportunities, such as its work with Atlantic Industries Limited in the construction of the province’s largest crusher wall, made of galvanized wire and local fill material.

The company has also been a major support to Arcelor Mittal’s operations in the region, including construction site preparation, fire and sewer system installation, and the construction of a loading dock at the steel and ore giant’s Fire Lake mine, some 85 kilometres southwest of Fermont.

The company has been fortunate in that it has not had to face the labour shortages that have plagued other regions experiencing resource booms. Mr. Riverin told an SMS Equipment newsletter that RCI recruits all over the province and offers generous incentives for prospective workers on particularly remote job sites.

The typical work schedule usually consists of 12 hours on, 12 hours off, with the number of consecutive days of work varying depending on the type of work. Construction contracts will typically consist of 28 consecutive days on the job site followed by fourteen days away, while the mining contracts range more habitually consisting of balanced cycles of fourteen workdays followed by fourteen days off. The rigorous schedule and cross-province recruitment has led RCI to run a flight service, connecting employees to the work site from their homes at various locations across the province.

RCI’s growth over the years has necessitated a number of upgrades to its fleet of equipment. Now the company boasts an impressive roster of dumpers, 55 excavators, over 30 wheel loaders, sixteen bulldozers, eighteen 60-ton trucks, nineteen 40-ton trucks, and four sets of mobile crushing units. Most of the fleet comes from Komatsu, Caterpillar, and John Deere, with a variety of other names rounding out the company’s top-of-the-line inventory.

Maintaining strong connections to equipment suppliers has proven effective in greasing the wheels of RCI’s success. Indeed, the close relationships and high standards for quality work have been instrumental in guaranteeing continued loyalty from some of its biggest clients.

The remarkable expansion RCI has undergone over the last six years has garnered considerable attention in the business community. In August of this year, Profit 500 rated the company as number sixteen on the list of Canadian businesses leading the way in growth for 2013. RCI was also recognized by the industry publication, Champions de la construction commerciale et industrielle, in its survey of the twenty largest employers across a range of specialties. The company ranked second in the field of excavation, nineteenth among heavy machine mechanics, and first among heavy equipment operators.

Without question, business is booming for RCI. Yet the full potential of northern Québec’s resource sector has really only just begun to be tapped. Continued development, ongoing mineral exploration, and the need for future new infrastructure and improvements to existing transportation will only mean more work for Messrs. Riverin, Miller, Laberge, and their typical roster of 250 to 300 skilled employees.

The expansion of docking facilities underway at Pointe Noire near Sept-îles are expected to increase the region’s shipping capacity by another 50 million tonnes per year, giving RCI every reason to expect continued growth.

Regardless of the sunny forecast for mineral extraction, the skills, entrepreneurial convictions, and astute sense of opportunity that Messrs. Riverin and Miller bring to the table will surely keep RCI as a company to watch.

July 17, 2018, 7:32 AM EDT

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