Valcom Consulting Group is a privately-owned Canadian company offering (ISO accredited) professional services in engineering, IT, project management, training, and more. Founded in Ontario in 1955, the company has grown to include offices in Oromocto, New Brunswick, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia.
Charles Richer, Senior Business Development & Procurement Manager, says his company’s number one client is Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND). With the 5th Canadian Division Support Base (5 CDSB) Gagetown—Canada’s second largest military base—located in Oromocto, the town made for an ideal expansion location. Richer started the Valcom New Brunswick office in 2006, moving to the private sector after two decades in Canada’s Armed Forces.
ONB sat down with Charles to learn more about the company’s work with 5 CDSB, moving east, and the benefits of operating from New Brunswick.
ONB: Let’s start with a bit more detail on Valcom offerings.
Richer: We currently provide support on anywhere from eight to ten different professional services contracts at 5 CDSB. We manage delivery of instructor-led training (Driver Wheel Training) on all wheeled vehicles (SMP fleet) across Canada for DND. We have teams in Gagetown and Bordon, Ontario for that, all managed from New Brunswick. We participate in an elearning courseware development contract that sees us provide project managers, courseware technical advisors (AKA subject matter experts), 3D programmers, and learning management systems (LMS) administrators. We also have a courseware contract on base for the Air Force which focuses on instructional design. We do IT in two specific areas on the base, providing help desk support, operational support systems analysts, and project managers.
Another notable contract sees us stripping out communications equipment from the base’s fleet of LAVs (Light Armoured Vehicles), then performing the verification of schematics for the install of new equipment.
Aside from DND we provide professional services to Rheinmetall Defence Electronics (RDE), a large Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) from Germany. We provide RDE with help desk support, field service representatives, and the warehousing of all spare parts for Leopard 2A4 simulators currently in use by the Canadian Forces.
Lastly, we provide the New Brunswick government with programmer services at the Department of Social Development.
ONB: What you’re describing requires a workforce with a varied set of skills. How do you recruit?
Richer: Like any startup we did a heavy recruitment campaign when we first landed in Oromocto. Being so close to the base we’ve focused on retired service members. They have the knowledge and skills we need, so bringing them back into play in the private sector is a very clear choice. Word of mouth, particularly when you’re hiring retired service members, is all we’ve needed.
I’m a retired serviceman myself, and we have a Program Administrator – Mr. Bob Weir and Program Coordinator – Mr. Clarence MacDonald, here that are both retired servicemen. The successes we’ve had and shared would not have been achievable without their support. When I started I brought my existing network with me, and every time we hire another retired service member they bring their network with them. We’ve had no problems finding the people we need in New Brunswick. It’s a great sense of accomplishment to provide the conduit that assists retired military folks find a career in the private sector so they can stay here and give back their knowledge and expertise.
ONB: How big is your team in New Brunswick?
Richer: We have 40 full time employees with about 20 to 25 part time employees across Canada. In terms of economic impact I’d estimate that over the last 10 years we’ve generated around $25 million in salaries for our team in Fredericton/Oromocto, and Saint John.
We’ve had a good run thus far, and we’re grateful to be in New Brunswick.
ONB: You’re on the New Brunswick Aerospace and Defence Association’s (NBADA) board of directors. What do you see as value propositions for investing in New Brunswick?
Richer: There is nothing you can’t do in New Brunswick, often for less money than in larger centres. If you want manufacturing done there are all sorts of highly-capable companies here that can deliver. Professional services as well; there’s quite a few of us here providing those types of well-vetted services, particularly if you are going after the defence sector. To put it in perspective, NBADA represents the interests of over 60 organizations in the province. There aren’t too many contracts out there now that can’t be effectively managed and delivered from New Brunswick.
We’re well-situated between Europe and the rest of North America. We have access to five ports for shipping to all corners of the globe. And it cannot be overstated how important the base is as the province’s third largest employer. Obviously it was a key to bringing Valcom to this province.
ONB: What about work-life balance? We often tout that as one of the benefits of New Brunswick.
Richer: I’m originally from Ontario and joined the Canadian Armed Forces at age 19. I moved to Gagetown in 1985 at age 20 and never went back home. I don’t think you can find a better place to live. There aren’t many places where you can find a better quality of life than in New Brunswick. The majority of folks that I engage with—both personally and professionally—seem to hold the same opinion.
Our team works your standard 7.5 hours per day, five days a week, no weekends or evenings. That gives them plenty of time at home with their families because commutes are short and traffic is minimal. That’s a huge perk of living in New Brunswick.
If you are the outdoorsy type, it’s God’s country. You can hunt, you can boat, and you can fish — I do a lot of those last two. I love boating and I’ve been running the beautiful Saint John River for the past 15-20 years. It’s fun to boat into Fredericton’s Regent Street Wharf in early fall to take in the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. Seriously, you have to love it here.
ONB: What role has ONB played with Valcom?
Richer: We receive incredible support here from the public sector. Whether it’s [Business Development Executive] Gary [Wood] or anyone else, any time I reach out to ONB I know I’ll be fine. In fact, I contacted Gary just recently on something that could be a potential contract for us. Your team is going to do some legwork for us and find out what the competitive environment around it is like. That will help us determine if it’s worth pursuing.
People think support comes only in the form of financing, not so. In terms of intelligence, I often learn where to focus our efforts from speaking with ONB. Whenever there’s an event, your team is there to help us prep, and to use those events as occasions to keep both of our teams updated on industry trends. It’s been hard work getting to this point, but we’ve become successful and your team has been there for us.
There isn’t a tendered opportunity that comes out in the defence industry in eastern Canada now—be it Army, Air, or Navy—that doesn’t see us mentioned in the conversation. Now when we attend those events, I have people reaching out to me rather than vice versa.
ONB: What key learnings from your time in the service have you brought with you to the private sector?
Richer: I spent 22 years in the service; I get the culture, the rank structure, and how things get done internally. Knowing the culture is the key to doing well in that environment. That’s why we focus on hiring retired service members. During the last few years of service I finished an MBA. That has enabled me to properly understand the financial side of things.
I think the biggest thing I learned, however, is the value of treating people the way you want to be treated, and respecting the fact that you’re not going anywhere without a team. The people that work for Valcom are fiercely loyal because we try to treat our team fairly, offer good benefits, and compensate them well.
If you don’t have a team, you don’t have anything.
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Wharf image via Capital City Boat Club