3Phase Power has had several phases to its growth.
The high-tech industrial supply company is in the phone books of several Western Canadian communities, but its first phone number was in Prince George and that is still home base.
Their nondescript building alongside River Road is showing rapidly being outgrown.
They used to have a lunch room with a pool table but now it is jammed with shelves loaded in small electronics parts and components.
They used to have a garage but now company president Kam Ghuman leaves his vehicle outside and the indoor bay is stuffed full of boxes and pallets.
They used to have a tenant to share the lease costs but they had to take that space over themselves and it is now stuffed with storage items. Technicians still stake out space in there for special projects that won't fit in their main workshop.
That workshop is currently dominated by a structure like a set of big gym lockers, but when the doors are opened, it looks like Darth Vader's broom closet inside. It is stuffed with wires, cables, capacitors, motherboards, and things only Bill Gates could identify. Ghuman casually described it as a 1,000 horsepower variable frequency drive for an industrial pumping system for an Alberta-based oil and gas company.
"There is not a lot of companies in Western Canada that can build one of these things. We are quite proud of that," said Ghuman. "It's not just plugging wires into motors following a design chart. This is very much part of their [the job team's] industrial creativity to make this come together. It's all done here in Prince George."
There is no problem shipping the components in from anywhere in the world, said Ghuman. They get capacitors from Milwaukee, power modules from Finland, and reactors from Germany, he said, offering a small example of their sourcing logistics. That would be the case no matter where you based your factory, he said, so other things are necessary to convince a company to set up shop in a particular city. Prince George makes corporate sense for him, he said, despite the fact he lives out of a suitcase all over the western provinces drumming up new business, fostering relationships, and maintaining past contracts.
He's been at the helm of the company for eight years and even he marvels at its growth. He points across the room to Brian Russell, the manufacturing manager. "He was the first employee the company ever had," Ghuman said.
The firm was called GLC Controls back then. It started out in 1993 in the basement of Bill and Cathy Christensen, a pair of electricians who cobbled together special-order control units in their spare time. Their work was in demand and they had to get help. Russell was hired in 1996 and he remembered the day he and the Christensens realized they were no longer a home-based business.
"It was a big soft-start panel, and it was 500 pounds and too tall to fit in the basement no matter how hard we tried to make it work," he said. "We also just won a contract for the Weldwood mill in Quesnel. It just was not going to work, down there. We had to have a real workshop. Once we did that, the growth opportunities just came at us, you could see it setting up for us to become a major company."
The Christensens were not interested in that sort of expansion responsibility, said Ghuman who lived in Vancouver and knew them through past business dealings. When they told him about their desire to step out of the company, Ghuman stepped in. He knew the company, he knew the Christensens would always be helpful if he had any questions later, and he could get the investment funds together so he bought the company.
Eight years later, the Prince George location now has about 20 employees with almost 10 others in the prairies, and plenty of suppliers and service providers partnered with them all over the world.
3Phase Power products are now on mine, mill and oil/gas sites in Russia, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Brazil, Africa and across Western Canada.
"We could have focused on the sawmill industry, but we would probably not be alive today if we did that," Ghuman said. "We saw the trend, the storm coming, before the global economic downturn and the U.S. housing collapse. We were already going about diversifying. I want to stress that we did not get out of the forest industry, it is still a very important part of what we do, but we knew we had to do more. We put a lot of energy into the energy sector in Alberta and the mining sector in Vancouver, and it steered us into prosperous waters."
Ghuman said there was already diversity in the region's economy and they got to do projects for northern B.C.'s mines and the Husky refinery, which helped them win outside-area contracts.
"We certainly want to do more work in our own backyard, that would feel great for us, we want to be part of that because there is so much industry going on around here," he said, but there is a problem. 3Phase Power is well known in those outside industrialized circles now, but not at home.
"My perception is the firms around our region seem to think local companies can't do the really big work and they need to hire in from Vancouver or wherever. But we're out there doing the big work so we hope to see more of that locally," he said.