Of all the possible descriptions of his company’s activities, Rod McCarthy offered “buildings, we just love buildings.”
Wearing a leather cowboy hat and sitting on the deck of his home-based business New Age Construction, McCarthy talks about his work as more of a passion than a job.
His company, launched in 1996 works across the NWT and in parts of Nunavut in general construction work and in constructing the footings for pre-fabricated buildings.
“I called it New Age because I bought all the new tools and vehicles that are out on the market,” he said.
McCarthy employs a range of people, from five up to 20 depending on the project and deadlines.
Most of the projects he takes on are for the GNWT and Government of Nunavut.
“We like to do $3-4 million worth of work (per year),” he said. “Some projects last a year. Housing isn’t profitable for us. We like doing buildings. Buildings are better. You get two duplexes, that’s basically a building because it’s (worth) over $2 million. I like doing it so that it lasts a year. I know where everybody is, I have my equipment, I have telehandlers, I like to truck it all where I’m going. I don’t want to be jumping all over the place.”
As he speaks, two members of his crew use an electric saw to size up wooden footings for an upcoming project in Fort Simpson.
McCarthy explains that he does all of the components for the job in the yard behind his house. The steel rebar pieces are cut and bent there using a rebar bender, and the boards for the footings cut and put together. Once on the site in Fort Simpson, concrete for the foundation and walls will be poured into the footings.
The Fort Simpson job will be two duplexes for the GNWT, a project worth more than $2 million that will last about eight months.
Just as hobbies don’t take seasonal breaks, neither does McCarthy.
“We never slow down at all actually. We work 12 months a year. We might take two or three weeks off at Christmas time to give the boys a break. Winter, summer, it don’t matter.
“My guys do six 10-hour shifts Monday-Saturday. The boys get overtime, they’re happy, I’m happy and they’re usually all together in one place.”
McCarthy tries to share his company’s expertise when they travel around the North on building projects.
They take a “skeleton crew” of three or four skilled workers and foremen into a community and train local people.
“That’s our motto. It’s economical for New Age to do it that way and we get pride when we leave there because we train people. If we have to go back we look up the same guys we trained and they know how to build from the bottom up, and that’s very cool.
“If anyone in the community wants to apprentice we help them get into the apprentice program and help them get their hours and teach them the trade.”
Covid-19 a minor annoyance
He shakes his head at the notion that the Covid-19 pandemic has had any significant effect on his company. New Age has mostly been spared the economic devastation experienced by other companies in the NWT due to Covid.
The construction industry in general has faced some issues with delayed supplies since the pandemic hit, but it has been a minor problem for his company, McCarthy explained.
“The suppliers, they knew this was coming at us – (so) buy more. Start building up stock. I’ve done that. I bought probably 30 per cent more supplies in the last year.”
The fact that more government staff are working at home because of the pandemic has slowed down his interaction with them.
“It’s not as fast as it used to be. The production is down on the government side as it would be because no one is watching them (at home). When you’re at home working it relaxes people,” he said.
Worker shortages or schedule delays haven’t been a problem. He hasn’t laid anyone off. All of his staff are from Yellowknife and they don’t travel outside the NWT for work.
The exception has been his superintendent and quality control partner Darrel McNeil, who has been self-isolating for two weeks in Hay River, after he visited family in Edmonton.
“We have work in Hay River which we can’t even try to start to do now, that ECE (Education, Culture and Employment) building down there. He’s basically stuck and I’m basically stuck for two weeks.
“He’s not finishing the job on the ECE building because he has to wait two weeks. It slows down production 100 per cent for two weeks.”
While McCarthy supports the Covid restrictions, the work on the ECE Service Centre renovation in Hay River has been completely paused, and in turn the upcoming Fort Simpson project has been delayed.
But he shrugs off the delay, saying that in the meantime he can prepared his telehandlers, machines and materials for loading onto trucks.
Next week McNeil will be finished his self-isolation and his crew will head to Fort Simpson.
“We’ll hire some guys and build.”