Resilience and growth reflected as industry experiences economic ups and downs
The Red Deer Construction Association (RDCA), celebrating its sixtieth anniversary, has demonstrated resilience and growth as the local construction industry adapts to changing economic circumstances.
The association was born as the Red Deer Builders Exchange in 1957. As the post World War II boom continued into the late 1950s, the central Alberta city between Calgary and Edmonton had serious procurement management, budgeting and growth challenges, as it struggled to provide services to a surging population, compounded by periodic economic crashes when the economy would contract suddenly.
“There was a requirement for some standards in the way things were being done, and that required people to get together to develop the standards and help the city grow in a structured way,” says current RDCA executive director Gary Gies.
There was something of a wild west atmosphere in the city’s earlier years and these were reflected in a chaotic political and procurement environment in the 1950s.
“In the mid-1950s, there was a slight lull in the great boom,” a report on the city’s construction history said. “The value of new construction dropped 30 per cent in 1956 and would have dropped even further if the provincial government had not launched the massive construction of the new Deerhome Institution (now part of the Michener Centre).”
Late that year, two representatives of the Calgary Builders Exchange attended a meeting at Red Deer’s City Hall as guest speakers. “The contractors who attended were impressed with what they heard.” They formed a local committee to interview subtrades and proceed with establishing the new organization.
The association was an instant success, with 58 members, the third largest in the province.
Through negotiations with the city, procurement and bidding systems were established to ensure a fair and competitive industry environment, and the association, later renamed the RDCA, took on the traditional construction association responsibilities including a plans room and bid depository.
Gies says several of the RDCA’s earliest corporate members still belong to the association. Membership through the years, reflecting the industry’s boom and bust cycles, has “gone all over the map,” he said.
“It was down in the early 80s. In the 1990s there were more than 100 members, and it reached 200 members in the 2000s.” By the current decade, as the economy grew, membership surged above 300, reaching 373 last year.
The most recent oil industry economic downturn hasn’t caused a loss in membership, he said.
“Typically, with associations, when times are a bit harder, people need some of our services,” Gies said. “We offer the ability to network, create relationships, and we’re the hub of information for construction. Lots of people, during downturns in the economy, flock to us for the latest news, and for help in putting them touch with other people to help diversify their businesses.”
Like most construction associations, the physical plans room has recently been replaced by electronic resources (with other Alberta associations, the RDCA belongs to COOLNet Alberta), and members now visit the association more for training opportunities than to view blueprints.
“By far the number one service that has carried on through the years is the importance of information and the ability to bid, and the fairness through standard and best practices, with tendering procedures and contracts, and these are still the staple of the association and the industry,” he said.
However, safety standards are becoming more important year by year, and here the RDCA training helps members keep up-to-date with requirements.
The association also is focusing more on encouraging young people to consider trades careers, providing resources for secondary and post-secondary schools, and promoting apprenticeship.
Gies said the RDCA recognized its past presidents at its annual general meeting and Building Central Alberta Night February. There’ll be a golf tournament in June, a members’ barbeque in August, and a Christmas breakfast in December. “We’ll be incorporating our sixtieth anniversary through all of these events” and through the association’s website and communications.
Gies says members, “with so many ups and downs, good times and tough times, based on the economy, people stuck together and were committed to it, and that’s what has made the association what it is today.”
Indeed, there is reason for pride as the RDCA looks forward to its next 60 years.