The new location for EDI Environmental Dynamics opened its doors last Wednesday.
Company principals said they would have no doors to open at all were it not for the city's university.
EDI works with governments and industrial companies to ensure development projects are environmentally sound, from the early proposal stage right through the construction phase and into operation. EDI employs a workforce of highly educated scientists in fields like geology, agrology, and biology.
This skilled and technical labour force could come from anywhere in Canada and outside our borders, so specialized are these fields of study, but EDI has found their best talent pool at UNBC.
"I would say UNBC is the No. 1 school we recruit from and No. 2 would be the University of Alberta," said company president Bob Redden. "They are people who have the academic credentials we need, but they also understand the Prince George region's climate and landscape. They know what they are getting into, in fact they like it here and enjoy working out in the field in northern B.C., and that helps us a lot with retention. We have built our business model on sticking to the things we are good at - terrestrial and aquatic biology - so we are in demand as subcontractors or consultants, and that means our people are happy because they get to work in the field they went to school for, and our clients are happy because the people we have doing that work are knowledgeable about the science and the working environment."
"UNBC is more than just the place we get employees. It has been intrinsic to helping us build up as a company and support us through some special projects that are a big part of who we are today," said co-manager Hanna van de Vosse, who did not attend UNBC but grew up in Prince George and moved back to the northern capital once her schooling was finished at the University of Victoria.
Her co-manager Cathy Mackay is not from Prince George but came for the university and stayed for the EDI career.
Redden said that was typical of EDI's employee profile, and how it was founded. He and his early business partner Dwight Hickey came to the region doing contract field work in the early 1990s. Hickey suggested they stay and plant company roots. Redden agreed, and EDI was born in 1993, the same year UNBC was under construction. When Hickey passed away 11 years ago, Redden was not inclined to leave.
"Part of our growth plan was the recognition that UNBC would be there providing us with a viable pool of employees," Redden said. "Now I can say perfectly say that we would not even exist as a company today were it not for UNBC, they have been that important to our development."
Industry might one day say the same thing. A particular project involving UNBC, EDI, the Prophet River First Nation, and petroleum company Encana is now a model example of how the different sides of an industrial proposal can work together to get the green light from government. The proof of the issue's weight can be seen in the major holdups - perhaps outright termination - to proposals like the Kemess North mine near Mackenzie, the Morrison mine near Smithers, and the Prosperity mine near Williams Lake, all with implications to do with First Nations opposition.
"There was a need for more information, more real science, more dialogue among all the stakeholders, and for a meaningful exchange of information," said Redden who committed EDI resources to help UNBC professor Dr. Jane Young, and personnel from the Prophet River people and Encana corporation. It turned into a project success and, said Redden, "a very rewarding experience."
A STUDY IN CO-OPERATION
According to UNBC documents, the co-operative project between the four stakeholders started in 2007 when Encana expressed a desire to build new roads between some existing gas infrastructures, which would also open up new opportunities for drilling. All of these activities were on Prophet River and Fort Nelson First Nations territory.
In the university's account of the partnership, the aboriginal people had some interests of their own in that area - an inventory of indigenous plant life.
We need to pass on our traditional knowledge to the younger generation before its too late, said Brian Wolf, junior lands director of the Prophet River First Nation. He was part of a presentation on the project for undergraduate biology students at UNBC recently. In the last decade, weve lost half of our elders and knowledge-holders, so there is a real sense of urgency.
Encana already had a professional relationship with EDI. Encana's surface landscape specialist Angela White called on EDI's Cathy Mackay, who has a working relationship with her alma mater UNBC.
We realized that, in order to do a thorough job, we needed to collect all of the ecological knowledge in the area, said White. At that point, we chose to involve UNBC. The university was absolutely essential to the process. UNBC had no agenda other than to collect - and protect - the knowledge of the First Nations. This gave the process a lot of credibility.
UNBC deployed veteran field researcher and instructor Dr. Jane Young to the project.
We created a submission to the UNBC Research Ethics Board and PRFN chief and council that was approved by both parties," said Young. "This submission included a Traditional Knowledge Protocol, signed by all four partners, with objectives, guiding principles, deliverables and benefits, as well as a guarantee of confidentiality and ownership of knowledge. It was a guide to carrying out research responsibly and respectfully and it set the tone for the entire project.
The end result were documents that catalogued natural values for the people, gave best practices options to industry, and even prediction modelling to show what might happen there in the future. It allowed the industrial activity to go ahead, on solid scientific and anthropological grounds.
The study also presented numerous opportunities for teaching and research for Prophet River youth and students at UNBC, in conjunction with elder input from the First Nation. UNBC graduate Sam Barnes worked as an undergraduate research assistant on the project.
I was so impressed when working with the elders at how friendly and forthcoming they were, said Barnes.
Upon graduation, based on his practical knowledge from the project he was hired immediately by EDI.