Walker Projects and affiliated companies provide a one-stop shop for a variety of construction projects in Saskatchewan. Specializing in project management services, Walker Projects offers structural and civil engineering, building design, prime consulting, restoration engineering and forensic analysis for building failures. There’s really nothing the company doesn’t do.
Milt Walker, President of Walker Projects Inc., has spent 35 years building up his experience and knowledge in the industry. Together with two of his senior personnel, the management team has over 95 years of combined experience. And if there’s one lesson that Walker has brought along with him throughout his career, it’s that people matter. Walker makes it a priority to meet clients where they are at. Walker Projects (and predecessor companies) has a great story behind it. Starting from the very bottom, Walker moved from designing the beams for a structure to actually conceiving the entire project, designing and managing it.
“Our company is unique,” says Walker. “We are one of the few engineering companies that do building design directly for building owners. Typically, we don’t work directly for architectural groups; we employ them as part of the design team.”
Century West Homes
Century West Homes Ltd. is one of Walker Projects’ affiliated companies. This company constructs quality, functional and affordable multi-family and single-family housing. As a fully integrated construction company, Century West has the ability to engineer, design, draw and construct homes from start to finish. The customer-first approach keeps everyone in the loop. Century West Homes is all about involving clients in the process because they feel it builds the trust that seems to be lacking in the building industry. To maintain open communication with clients, Century has invested in an online communications system that allows the homeowner to be an active participant in the construction of their new home.
Century West Development
Another affiliated company is Century West Development Corporation, co-owned by Milt Walker and Francis Bast. This company specializes in the acquisition and development of commercial and retail properties. Century West Development investigates potential residential and commercial development opportunities, purchases land, raises investment funds, leases properties, secures financing and manages the development of the properties.
Projects that stand out
With decades to build a portfolio, it’s hard to pick just one project that leads the pack. One of Walker’s recent favourites is Capital Auto Mall, a group of automotive commercial buildings.
“Capital Auto Mall is located on a 22-acre-site in north-west Regina,” explains Walker. “It includes Capital Pontiac, Capital Ford and the Universal Collision Centre. The ultimate goal of the project was to create a state-of-the-art auto sales and service complex—a warm and inviting place to do business. The design of the three facilities had to be distinct and independent of one another but at the same time being a recognizable part of the same community. It was critical that design of the project promote free interaction between the three businesses.”
The project was completed on an aggressive schedule, but it was successful for all involved. In fact, the project won a two Consulting Engineers of Saskatchewan awards: the Award of Excellence in the Building Science category and the Award of Merit in the Project Partnering category.
Walker Projects has also done special projects, such as forensic analysis and expert witness services for building failures and damage. The team has provided expert reports on subjects ranging from roof collapses to the repercussions of fire damage of surviving structural members.
The importance of good client communication
Walker Projects/Century West is committed to a client-centred approach to each project, which means including assigned project staff in regular client meetings. As the contractors hired to do the work, they feel it important to explain the construction process in accessible ways.
“It’s what makes us different,” explains Walker. “We work very hard to provide a practical and understandable client-based service. Highly technical people can be difficult to deal with, because they have trouble relating. But I think the more complex an issue appears to be, the simpler it actually is when you step back and look at it—which is the approach we take with clients.”
“We’ve actually been complemented from our clients for how we approach them,” Walker adds. “They like that we don’t sound like engineers. People appreciate that they can understand the product that they’re getting.”
Century West Homes’ online communication program was another way of trying to foster better communication with the client. Walker explains that it was a great way to maintain contact with the customer without spending a tremendous amount of in-house time. “People don’t always have a pleasing experience when it comes to buying houses,” he adds, “so we tried to look into that and make it better.”
Keeping up to date
Just as important as the client is the product. Walker Projects/Century West makes a concerted effort to ensure their projects are high quality, as well as modern. The companies spend significant resources to make sure that people are well trained and up to date on industry trends.
In fact, the company recently hired a salesperson for the housing division and, within a week, they not only spent several days to train her on all the technical aspects of a house, but they sent her to a two-day conference.
“We feel the more training we can provide and the more decisions we make at the customer service level, the better off we are,” says Walker. “Our designers also have a passion for what they do, so they’re diligent in picking up on trends. People at all of our companies love to work here. We make the extra effort to do our job well.”
Part of the customer service mentality and a quality product comes with being fussy about who works for you. Walker explains that they hand pick their employees, trying them out during summer work terms and keeping them on if they fit with the team.
A good time to be in Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan businesses are experiencing the long-overdue surge in the economy. Companies like Walker Projects and Century West are finally reaping the benefits of years of hard work.
“It’s been very positive,” Walker says. “I’ve been in this business here for 35 years and there were times where it was very difficult to grow a company. At one time, we were losing a lot of our senior people to other provinces, particularly Alberta. In the past two, for the first time, we’ve seen population growth and industry growth. And that has enabled us to expand.”
“In the 1990s, our market had been declining for a long time, so if you started with 10 employees in one year and finished with 10, you were doing pretty well. But the growth has allowed us to attract employees from other parts of the country.”
“In January, for example, we were able to hire a graduate engineer from the Ottawa area. That would have never been possible in previous times. We’re actually in the process of hiring two more people this week!”
Walker Projects/Century West has a lot to look forward to. In May, they are moving into a new office space, giving them needed room to expand. Although Walker initially thought the space would last for years to come, another move might come sooner than expected if the boom keeps up.
After the move, Walker’s main goal is to transfer some of the ownership from Walker Projects and Century West to the employees. “I think an employee owned company provides the best framework for quality service, which will ensure long term growth,” Walker says. “It allows for the best kind of passion to come out.”
Stay tuned for more success from these companies. There is a lot more to come.