Early this year, we told you why New Brunswick is a prime location for manufacturing land vehicles systems, simulation and training, and cybersecurity. DEW Engineering is an important piece of that New Brunswick defence sector, with a strong (and still growing) presence in the province for over two decades.
As a military contractor providing specialized equipment for the Canadian Armed Forces (and other first-tier government contractors), DEW designs, builds, and fields equipment, and services it after sale. “Generally speaking, anything the Army needs, we can build.” notes President Ian Marsh.
Headquartered in Ottawa, DEW operates facilities in both Canada’s capital and Miramichi, New Brunswick. This spring, the company invested in further New Brunswick growth, announcing it would create 98 new manufacturing positions in Miramichi.
Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke to Ian Marsh to learn more.
ONB: Let’s talk about New Brunswick. What work gets done here?
Marsh: We’ve been in New Brunswick 20 years now, and have done a number of major jobs in Miramichi. We’ve upgraded and repaired a variety of military vehicles like tanks and armoured personnel carriers, built shelters—essentially big boxes that go on trucks—for the Army, and made armour panels to improve protection of military and police vehicles.
ONB: What led to DEW investing in New Brunswick?
Marsh: As I mentioned, we began here 20 years ago. The owner at the time, who was responsible for much of our early growth, grew up on the air force base in Miramichi, CFB Chatham. His father was air force, and he served there himself eventually, so he was familiar with the community. After CFB Chatham closed, buildings were available, for a nominal cost but with a commitment to provide jobs. DEW looked at the hangar onsite and realized it was a fantastic facility for manufacturing — 60,000 square feet with no walls, you can do whatever you want there. DEW purchased it from the Canadian Government and has fulfilled that commitment to provide jobs, several times over.
It’s an incredible location for us, mainly due to the terrific personnel we can hire. This is why we continue to make investments here, like the new positions announced this spring.
ONB: Can you expand on the advantages DEW has seen operating in New Brunswick?
Marsh: Overhead costs and salaries are competitive with most jurisdictions. Land, however, is very affordable, so that helps tremendously. What I’ve found though is that the people are fantastic — that’s the big selling point.
Ottawa is not an ideal place for us to do manufacturing; its industrial sector is quite small. Miramichi, though much smaller, has a solid industrial culture; the people are ready, willing and able to work with their hands, and that’s what is essential. When we want to grow, we know there are capable people there that can join our team.
Support from the public sector here is tremendous. From municipal and provincial governments, to regional development agencies like ACOA, they care about us in Miramichi. I’ll give you an example: We wanted to put up a new warehouse. We went to the City of Miramichi, said we had a building we hoped to construct, and asked how long it would take for a permit — we had the permit that afternoon. Things don’t move that quickly everywhere, certainly not in many major centres.
The municipality has been highly responsive to our needs. There’s been a real consistency in the Province of New Brunswick in terms of getting good support from the public sector for over two decades.
ONB: Canada’s second largest military base, 5 CDSB Gagetown, is in New Brunswick. Do you have any relationship with them?
Marsh: Procurement of equipment for the Armed Forces is done almost entirely in Ottawa, so we don’t have strong ties to Gagetown. We’ve used their facilities in the past, however, as part of acceptance procedures for the equipment we manufacture, and we’d be happy to work with them again.
ONB: You took over as President five years ago, what’s your leadership philosophy?
Marsh: We have our ‘Top Five Priorities’, and I tell my people this all the time, because I need to give them the tools to make the right decisions day-to-day.
1. First is safety — we don’t jeopardize anyone’s safety. We have improved our safety record tremendously over the years. We’ve gone over 400 days without any lost time injuries in Miramichi. It’s essential to be able to work safely, and yet also competitively and productively.
2. Next is integrity; we will not lie, cheat or steal. We follow the law of course, but more importantly we try to be ethical, responsible people. We try to be good to each other and to our customers. You can’t go far if you’re not treating people decently.
3. Quality: It’s essential to have quality products or the customer won’t return. Our customers are loyal to us and to the Miramichi plant because of the quality of product that comes out of there. I’ve had customers in multiple countries tell us they want product to keep coming from Miramichi.
4. Delivery: Delivery has to happen on time. That’s another area where Miramichi excels.
5. Cost: We need to do it cost-effectively or we’re not staying in business. The trick is striking the right balance between all five priorities, which can be challenging. Thus far, we’ve managed pretty well.
ONB: Finally, what has your relationship been like with ONB?
Marsh: It goes back to that incredible support from the public sector; ONB has been a huge part of that over the years. They’re always eager to help, and keep in good contact with us. We touch base several times per year. [Business Development Executive] Gary [Wood] is very proactive; he makes it his business to find out what we’re doing, and help us with whatever we’re looking into. Again, that support isn’t always as strong in other jurisdictions.
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