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Finding synergy: New partnership brings Saskatchewan First Nations and business together


With the province’s largest full-service fabricator entering into a partnership with two Saskatchewan First Nations – the OTC wanted to get a better sense of why and talk about how this fits with economic reconciliation.

The economic development corporations of English River First Nation and Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation have each acquired 30 per cent ownership interest with JNE Welding, a fabricating company which began in 1980 and works with mining, construction, petrochemical, and power-generation companies across North America.

“It made sense to me on several different levels,” JNE Welding president and CEO Jim Nowakowski said.

The partnership with the First Nation communities puts JNE at a competitive advantage while competing in a global market, Nowakowski said.

Across the country, there is an increasing mandate for industry to work with Aboriginal-owned companies. Nowakowski added that both First Nations also bring in well-established industry connections and projects running a mine supply company, industrial production company, and a communications company.

“All of those are synergetic with our company,” he said. 

For English River and Peter Ballantyne, the partnership will diversify their holdings, bring earnings into the communities, and create jobs. Nowakowski said as the partnership was being built, it was important to find ways of helping the communities, specifically the youth, to become more successful.

“I’m pretty happy to be able to play some part, some small part, in that role of helping these leaders in those communities be more successful through what I’ve been building over the last 35 years, which now I hope to be able to share,” he said.

The combined top-line revenue of the three companies is $296 million and together they account for over 1,000 jobs.

The First Nations and non-First Nations partnership is essential to the success of business and the province, Nowakowski said. By coming together, all of the parties are able to benefit.

“The model I built will not survive the next 35 years unless we are very strategic about what we do and how we do it, and be very aware of the changes around us. We are not the lowest cost producer, nor do we strive to be the lowest cost producer, we strive to be certainly the best steel fabricator that we can be,” Nowakowski said.

“We strive to be not only a good vendor but a good employer and a good customer as well; in order to be able to do that, we have to look at what our competitive advantages are.”

Written by Geraldine Malone

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