Ryan St. John has been building business around the Kivalliq mining and exploration industries for decades and he isn’t slowing down.
Through Northern Networks Ltd., a general contractor under Arviat’s Eskimo Point Lumber Supply, St. John announced in February that he’s agreed to become a dealer for amphibious all-terrain vehicles through Sherp, located just outside of Winnipeg.
That followed a December unveiling of a partnership between Northern Networks Ltd. and Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology whereby Northern Networks would help distribute Sandvik’s mining vehicles and equipment in the North. Negotiations for that deal took close to two years because Sandvik is a large multi-national engineering group with established processes, St. John explains.
“It took a little bit to jump through the hoops and deal with the… regulatory governance issues,” he says, adding that his company will be actively seeking to put together proposals and quotes for Sandvik merchandise and perhaps for related services such maintenance and repairs, supplying drill bits and sharpening tools.
He’s competing against the established Sakku Investments Ltd. partnership with Toromont CAT Arctic and the recently formed arrangement between Nunavut Investments and MacLean Engineering. As the largest mining entity in the region, Agnico Eagle is a coveted customer.
St. John says he has faith in Sandvik’s proven lines of vehicles and technologies to give his joint venture an advantage.
“We feel that they’re the best in their field,” he says of Sandvik. “They have a product to offer that nobody else can today.”
He feels similarly about the unique qualities of the diesel-operated Sherp all-terrain vehicles, which can carry six people.
“It’s a machine built for the North,” he says. “For (mineral) exploration, I think it would be a great way for them to improve not only safety but reduce costs and be able to stretch their budgets – less helicopter time and use this machine for crew changes and drill support.”
The Kivalliq hydro-fibre link project, which appears to be moving forward, could also be a chance to sell some of the all-terrain vehicles, he suggested.
For Eskimo Point Lumber Supply and Northern Networks, playing a support role in the exploration field dates back to the 1990s when the Arviat firm started selling groceries, hauling goods overland, arranging for air charters, building and maintaining camps and providing labour.
Agnico Eagle has become a gravitational force in the region over the past decade, pulling in all sorts of enterprises.
“They’ve had a huge, positive impact on the region, not only through jobs but through business opportunities,” says St. John. “We’ve seen very significant increases in retail sales through our stores and use of our services in the communities that we serve.”
One of the challenges a major industrial employer brings is the inevitable luring away of some retail employees. St. John has seen some of his staff depart for mining jobs.
“Any time there’s a boom, that’s always the most difficult part of running your business is when you start competing with larger projects,” he acknowledges. “We’re all in the same boat at the end of the day and all fighting for the same people. It makes it tough, but we’ve been here before. The boom and bust cycles comes and goes. We’re booming right now and we’re taking advantage.”