Established in 1991 as a small consulting survey practice with one office and five staff members in Thessalon, Ont., TULLOCH Engineering has grown into a multi-disciplinary engineering firm that employs about 275 professional and technical staff in 10 offices in Sault Ste. Marie, Thessalon, Elliot Lake, Espanola, Sudbury, Parry Sound, Thunder Bay, Huntsville, Ottawa and Hamilton, and operates numerous temporary project construction site offices.
TULLOCH Engineering provides integrated planning, surveying, engineering, and environmental services with focus on operations in Northern Ontario, and for over 25 years has provided engineering and survey solutions to both, the private and public sectors. The company provides civil engineering, geotechnical, structural engineering, forest engineering, and contract administration to projects in renewable energy, transportation infrastructure, mining and other projects important to the development of the Northern Ontario.
The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Mark Tulloch, Ontario Land Surveyor, Professional Engineer, Chief Executive Officer of TULLOCH Engineering, and the second generation behind this well-established engineering brand.
According to Tulloch the company saw very little growth and came close to closing its doors early on, up until its first big opportunity came about in 1997, when the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) started looking at private contractors to execute infrastructure projects. “This was not a strategy, but we did hire some of the former MTO employees who took early retirement but were eager to work, and we started to bid on the projects that the MTO was sending out to consultants. Until we started to bid, we did not realize how important and valuable these individuals would be to us, as they were able to win many projects for TULLOCH,” he explains.
Since 1997, the firm has been focusing on construction administration for the MTO, and this has been at the centre of TULLOCH’s operations until 2006, and to this day construction administration – managing construction projects and ensuring they meet project requirements (be it MTO or other clients) – has been the core strength of the firm.
“We serve as the middleman between the contractor and the project owner, and we make sure the project is built according to the design drawings and specifications,” adds Tulloch. “And during this time we focused on growing this segment of our expertise, and focused almost exclusively on working for the MTO. In 2006 we had 90 employees. A bit of luck, I suppose, but you will find throughout our history that things just seem to find us.”
However there is one thing that comes in play along with this “luck” — the geographical factor. Operating in Northern Ontario represents its own set of challenges and demands for firms that may be managing projects remotely, whether it’s Toronto, the GTA, or Southern Ontario.
“One of the themes you can see throughout our history is our ability to provide services right across Northern Ontario. It’s one of our key strengths and a competitive advantage,” says Tulloch. “The fact is that there aren’t too many engineering firms up here, and we compete for projects with firms usually located in Southern Ontario, and the key advantage we have is that we are hiring people across Northern Ontario who can respond to remote projects. It’s 18-hour drive from Toronto to Thunder Bay, and we can mobilize our crews much faster. Being based in the north has been the true advantage for us over the years.”
As the work for the Ministry of Transportation remains steady, the company has started to branch off into other sectors that made headway in Northern Ontario in early 2000s, namely renewable energy. “We managed one of the first wind farms in Canada. The original US-based builder was not prepared for building in the mountainous, rocky conditions of Northern Ontario; so they reached out to us to help with the engineering design and project administration,” says Tulloch.
This project, Prince Wind Farm, consists of 126 turbines and generates more than 200 megawatts of power, and TULLOCH provided initial route and site selection, construction layout, site grading design, as well as the design of approximately 46km of access road.
“We spent two years on this project, and we fell in love with the renewable energy, so we got involved with the wind energy industry, and we worked on additional projects since then, including Greenwich Wind Farm in 2009, and since the launch of Ontario’s Feed-in Tariff (FIT) Program in 2009 to create new clean energy industries, the renewable energy has been a steady part of our business,” says Tulloch.
Overall, transportation represents 50% of the company’s work, renewable energy 15%, land development another 15%, municipal infrastructure 10%, with mining and pipelines at about 5% each. According to Tulloch, there are plenty of transportation development projects lined up for Northern Ontario, and mining has also seen an uptick in development projects, specifically Rainy River advanced-stage gold project, and further developments in the Ring of Fire; as well as 400km transmission line between Wawa and Thunder Bay will start in 2018 and is expected to take three years to complete.
Tulloch sees the future in a direct light — continue providing strong contract administration to the MTO, continue to grow company’s engineering design group in renewables, municipal infrastructure and land development, and continue to be the leading provider of survey services across Ontario.