When Jim Hamilton joined Radium Technologies Inc. in 2007, the Grande Prairie based company of 10 employees was focused primarily on electrical and instrumentation services for the oil and gas industry. Hamilton, a tradesman with plumbing, gas fitting and steam fitting trade tickets and 43 years of experience in oil and gas construction, was approached to start up a mechanical and fabrication division in Radium.
Sixteen years later, Radium is a different company. With 175 employees, three field offices (Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray and Estevan), two fabrication hubs (Grande Prairie and Estevan), one maintenance hub (Fort McMurray) and one project management office (Calgary), the general contractor provides heavy construction and maintenance services to the heavy industrial, mining, agriculture and oil and gas industries across Western Canada.
“Radium is doing very well,” Hamilton confirms from his office in downtown Calgary. “We are what’s classified as a tier two contractor, and we still dabble in that space, but most of our clients and most of the work we’re bidding on right now is in the tier one space. We’re dealing with tier one clients and bidding against tier one contractors.”
Hamilton, who has been CEO since 2008, engineered this transformation by diversifying Radium’s marketplace.
“About five to six years ago I started the trend from tier two space into tier one space and to move Radium to markets other than oil and gas,” he explains. “Oil and gas is very cyclical. It’s up and down. You have your peaks and valleys and there’s too many of them. I realized that we had to expand out of the current marketplace, into other areas such as mining, agriculture and pulp. We had to go where the work is.”
Hamilton spent three years refocusing and regrouping Radium to enter into the tier one space. “And we were successful,” he says. “Years prior, Radium had gone after the midstream companies, so we built off that. We moved into agriculture, mining and pulp. In late 2022 we started to look at Fort McMurray and found two individuals willing to promote our services in the area with our pump and valve shop.”
The likes of CNRL and Suncor eventually awarded jobs to Radium. “It took years to open up some of these major doors just to get to bid,” he says. “Then we branched into Saskatchewan in 2021 with an opportunity to get into the potash world with Nutrien. That has become very successful and we’ve picked up quite a bit of work in Saskatchewan.”
“There’s less competition in Saskatchewan than in Alberta, and it’s hard to crack the door and get in there,” Hamilton continues. “But once you’re in there and you can do the work, the work starts following you.”
“As a true general contractor, we have access to larger jobs and more opportunities,” Hamilton explains. “We’re into fabrication, mechanical, electrical and instrumentation and we do a lot of project planning for either engineering companies or clients, AFE planning and construction planning. It’s allowed us to grow in all these different areas.”
Radium’s largest job to date was a 200-million-per-day sour gas plant south of Grande Prairie for SemCAMS. “We helped them plan and do the install,” Hamilton explains. “We performed fabrication for all of the interconnects (90,000 pipe inches) and we did several smaller module packages for them. It was a very, very successful job. We finished it on schedule and within budget, which is unheard of nowadays.”
Radium has done a lot of work for Nutrien in Saskatchewan, including at its Rocanville potash plant, one of the largest potash mines in the world. “It took me years to win them over to allow us to bid on a project,” Hamilton recounts, “but we eventually did and we won the project. We performed the work and finished on schedule and below budget. It’s opened up the door to some of the work we’re doing now. We just picked up a huge pumphouse at Rocanville and now we’re bidding work at Lanigan Potash [a Nutrien potash mine] as well.”
About one-third of Radium’s business now comes from Saskatchewan, with the potential to double. “We plan on growing the division in Saskatchewan to perform upwards of $50 million in revenue over the next several years,” Hamilton predicts. Business in Fort McMurray too is growing, with Hamilton projecting $25 to $30 million next year.
Last January, Radium opened up a pump and valve shop at its Fort McMurray maintenance hub, which also does mechanical, electrical and instrumentation work. “We’re now dealing with CNRL and Suncor on some hourly maintenance and turnaround work,” Hamilton says. “We’ve actually been supporting some of our competitors because they can’t find labour. Some of our clients asked us to help support tier one contractors with our labour craft when they had troubles finding labour. This has again helped Radium draw more attention to us in the Fort McMurray area.”
Radium’s labour needs fluctuate – it peaked at 400 people during the SemCAMS job prior to 2019 – and Hamilton retains a base of 175 today. The labour shortage in the trades is an issue faced by everyone in the industry: “People aren’t in the trades anymore, aren’t in the industry. We treat our people well and have a good reputation, so a lot want to come back to us. But once you’re outside the sandbox you play in, it’s very difficult to attract new people. We’re looking at different ways to attract the right people if we start pressing the need for 350 – 400.”
Supporting those in the field are Radium’s Calgary team of project managers, a construction manager and support teams. “And in each of our other locations we have area managers that report to us here in Calgary,” he explains. “We have everything broken down by division, so we can try to market and manage each area properly and get us into larger jobs.”
After withstanding the past few turbulent years – the plummeting oil price followed by COVID – Hamilton now has Radium positioned for growth. “And we know it’s coming in the space that we’re in,” he notes. “In tier one space, our margins are where they need to be to continue to grow and retain people. Having larger jobs is key to attracting more long-term and quality people.”
First Nations partnerships are also integral to Radium’s success. “We’re heavily involved and have really strong relationships with the First Nations we deal with,” Hamilton says. “I look at it a bit differently: most people go and try to win over the First Nation and then chase the work. What I do is secure the client work, then go and find the right First Nation band that can work with us and grow.”
This approach, he continues, has been very beneficial, particularly with First Nations in Saskatchewan who are now bringing opportunities to Radium. “Every time we gain a bid, we inform our First Nations partners and involve them in the process,” Hamilton says. “And once we win the job, we go one step further, and engage them again to start figuring out what work we can do with them or hand off to them. It becomes a true partnership.”
Radium works with the Willow Lake Metis in Fort McMurray, the T’Kuemlups First Nation and Little Shuswap First Nation in interior B.C., a number of First Nation bands in north east B.C. depending on the location of the project and client, and the Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation and File Hills Tribal Council in Saskatchewan for additional labour requirements. “We continue to have a relationship with Samson Cree Nation for additional labour, as well as Western Cree in Alberta,” Hamilton says.
Having successfully refocused Radium and survived several ups and downs, Hamilton is confident in his company’s future. With the right people, the right partnerships and the right strategy, Radium is set for sustainable growth for many years to come.