Thirty and Thriving
Over a span of three decades, the Fort McKay First Nation (FMFN) businesses and companies have embraced partnerships with the oil and gas sector and become a vital contributor to Alberta’s energy economy. The FMFN is nestled in the heart of northern Alberta and is flanked on all sides by the oil sands. The Nation’s companies support the development of natural resources in an environmentally sustainable manner which works to protect tradition, culture and the future of our community. This June, the Nation celebrates its 30-year anniversary in business.
– Jim Boucher, Chief of the FMFN
In 1986, Chief Jim Boucher knew that the FMFN had to adapt to the changing economy if the Nation was to have a say in how its community and lands were evolving. Boucher and other leaders had a vision that the community could have improved services and programs if they participated in the new economy—and the FMFN businesses and companies were launched.
Now, 30 years later, 10 companies make up the FMFN portfolio and the economic impact has been significant. “When aggregated, FMFN businesses generated an average annual revenue of between $450 and $500 million over the last five years,” says Boucher. Of the wages paid, approximately $60 to $70 million is remitted annually to the government in taxes.
For the FMFN, economic success has resulted in a substantial increase in spending on infrastructure and services with a significant amount of the companies’ revenue going directly back into the community. “In 2015, FMFN spent $45 million on community programs and services.” Over the past five years, FMFN has received government in-transfer payments of approximatively $3 million annually. “All funding from the government goes directly into the community, rather than toward administrative costs.” As an added benefit, a trust fund has been established to ensure the FMFN’s stability and sustainable growth. The economic success of the FMFN businesses have not only benefited their community but also have had a large impact on the entire region.
On average, the Nation’s businesses employ 1,600 to 2,100 people. The annual earnings of working members of the FMFN, who are over 15-years of age, is $66,000. Individual households have an average yearly income of $120,000. The 5 year average annual salaries paid by the Nation were $200 million, and according to Boucher, this money doesn’t just impact the economy of the FMFN. Over the last 5 years, the FMFN and its businesses purchased goods from various suppliers of approximately $240 million. “The vast majority of these suppliers are located in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo,” Boucher says.
Mel Benson, a respected First Nations oil veteran who sits on the Board of Directors for both Suncor and the Fort McKay Group of Companies (FMGOC), credits the success of the Nation’s companies to the strategic and long-term vision of Boucher. “When you talk to Chief Boucher, he’s pretty clear about why they got into this,” Benson says. “They wanted jobs and training for community members and to see them progress through the ranks.” They wanted to ensure that there was something coming back to the community as a whole. Business success for FMFN is defined by providing for the community in a safe, environmentally responsible way,” he says. And that’s exactly what’s happened.
– Mark Ward, CEO and president of Syncrude
Neil Camarta, who sits on the Board of Directors alongside Benson, says the Nation’s three-decade anniversary is a “big deal.” Camarta is an industry legend, known for his leadership at Shell Canada where he spearheaded the successful development of Shell’s $6-billion Athabasca Oil Sands Project. “The FMGOC has not only survived for 30 years—it has thrived,” he says. “It has grown to be a major player in the oil sands industry. It has created wealth for its shareholder—the FMFN. And it has created many great career
opportunities for the band members,” he says. “Chief Boucher decided early on that he would take maximum advantage of the business opportunities in his backyard. He made it happen. And he did that in a completely business-like way.” Today, that vision has become a reality as the FMFN business portfolio is large, diverse and growing. In 2001, the FMFN businesses and companies took another step forward and launched the FMGOC, a branch of the FMFN’s businesses, wholly owned and operated by the Nation. The FMGOC was formed to meet a market need in the oil sands, and to provide profit, employment and skills to Nation members. The entire community has reaped the benefits of this development with freshly paved roads, 155 detached homes and a variety of infrastructure projects.
Of the 10 companies the FMFN owns, eight are majority owned by the Nation, and two are fully owned and operated by the Nation under the FMGOC: Fort McKay Logistics and Fort McKay Strategic Services. Joint ventures, along with other companies, were formed to further invest in oil sands business opportunities. These joint ventures include Creeburn Lake Lodge, Barge Landing Lodge, First North Catering, Poplar Point Camp Services, Caribou Energy Park, Fort McKay Savanna Oilfield Rentals, Hammerstone Products and a recently acquired accommodation facility with Noralta Lodge. These companies are jointly owned with the FMFN’s business
partners which include ATCO Structures & Logistics, Waiward Management, Savanna Energy Services Corp., Hammerstone Corporation, ESS Support Services and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.
– Jim Boucher, Chief of the FMFN
The continued success of Fort McKay businesses is only possible through mutually beneficial collaborations, which has become a defining model for business development. “You look for the right partner. You try and ensure that you share in the same outlook, the same strategy and the same desired outcome,” says Benson. “If you have common interests and both parties can contribute something to the partnership, you can move ahead.” Today, the FMFN has gained an unparalleled reputation as a reliable and consistent business partner.
Customers of the FMFN businesses can also expect first-class reliability and excellence. “Clients choose to do business with us for a number of reasons, including service, competitive cost and focus on safety,” says Benson. Camarta echoes Benson and agrees that companies should “choose FMFN for the right commercial reasons—pricing, safety and so on,” but also adds that the FMFN “works hard to create jobs for the young people in the First Nation community.” Supporting local employment is a key way in which companies in the region can exercise corporate responsibility.
Despite Alberta’s oil and gas sector weathering a recession, the FMFN has been making strategic moves. In early 2016, the FMFN purchased an accommodation service company with Noralta Lodge to be called Dene Koe Workforce Lodging & Services. Barrie Robb, CEO of business development for the FMFN, co-ordinated the recent partnership and purchase. “We think we’ve got a strong partnership with Noralta. They have a great reputation for quality service,” says Robb.
“We are optimistic that we have a great future together.”
With 30 years of economic advancement under its belt, the FMFN is not slowing down. “It’s been a journey with challenges, a journey with hope and a journey with many successes along the way,” says Benson. In the meantime, the FMFN community continues to benefit and flourish.
Fort McKay Logistics
Fort McKay Logistics is one of the Nation’s most successful companies. Logistics has more than 20 years of experience with “good safety performance, competitive pricing and delivering results,” says board member Neil Camarta. Logistics offers services ranging from material management to delivery hauls. They have over 155 pieces of equipment including vans, tractors and forklifts. The company works closely with Syncrude, transporting goods to various sites in Edmonton, Fort McMurray and more. A new warehouse in Edmonton is allowing Logistics to expand its operations.
Adam King, CEO of FMGOC, says “Logistics brings value to clients by providing lower costs due to continuous improvement and quality assurance. We work closely with our clients and our qualified team is very hands-on and involved.” Logistics and other FMFN businesses have earned more than $2.6 billion in business from Syncrude, says CEO and president Mark Ward. “The FMFN has been one of our valuable partners in supplying goods and services since they first started operating in 1986. Working together has ensured our mutual success,” says Ward.
The FMFN businesses and companies continue to protect their traditional lands, preserve their heritage and give back to give back to the community. Thanks to the FMFN businesses and our clients, numerous infrastructure projects have been built for the Nation to enjoy. These projects include a community arena complete with an NHL-sized hockey rink, an 1,800-seat outdoor amphitheatre and, at the heart of Fort McKay, the Dorothy McDonald Business Centre. A new senior’s lodge is currently under construction.
For more information about the Fort McKay First Nation and its businesses, visit fortmckay.com or call (780) 828-4220