If you don’t have much need for metal fabrication in your day-to-day life, Regina’s Pro Metal Industries may well have been gliding beneath your radar. That’s in spite of its 36 years in operation. But Pro Metal, which bills itself as the premier metal fabrication, custom manufacturing and assembly specialist in Western Canada, is becoming much harder to miss.
The company, 100-per-cent owned by Pasqua First Nation (PFN), will be moving into a new 50,000-sq.-ft. facility situated on nine acres of land on north Pasqua Street later this year. The expansion is required to accommodate what Pro Metal President Mark Brown refers to as the “extreme growth’’ of the company, one of the only metal fabricators in Canada wholly owned by a First Nation. An adjacent powder coating facility under construction nearby will eliminate the company’s need to out-source the procedure, which gives metal products a tougher finish than wet paint.
Brown says a big part of Pro Metal’s growth is coming from military clients such as General Dynamics Land Systems, maker of the six-wheeled Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV). Pro Metal makes LAV components for the Canadian military and the United States marines.
The company was not involved in military and defence work before PFN purchased it. So while Brown sees plenty of opportunity for growth in this area – Pro Metal also works with Mack Defense and QinetiQ Target Systems – he says it will take time to build reputation because requirements are exacting. “Quality standards are extremely demanding. After all, these companies are involved in protecting soldiers’ lives and protecting countries.’’
He says Pro Metal has some advantage in bidding on Canadian government contracts due to the government’s objective to award 5 per cent of its procurement spending to companies with majority Indigenous ownership. “So that helps,’’ says Brown. “But you have to perform. In fact, we almost have to be better than the incumbents or we’ll be accused of getting the contract simply because we’re Indigenous.’’
Portable hospitals might seem an unusual product for a metal fabricator. But Pro Metal’s experience with infrastructure combined with its strong background in logistics and project management earned it a contract to manufacture them for the federal government. “We saw an opportunity to produce and deploy these units as emergency infrastructure for communities dealing with the virus,’’ says Brown. As the need for temporary hospitals subsided, he adds, Pro Metal began producing the structures for use as emergency housing for First Nation communities.
Saskatchewan’s mining industry is another major source of business, with potash miners, in particular, serving as strong contributors to the company’s growth. “K+S, Mosaic and Nutrien are some of our large customers. But we’re also looking forward to working with BHP.’’ Brown says the company is working with SaskPower on the Great Plains Power Station at Moose Jaw and he appreciates provincial support through programs such as the Indigenous Business Gathering.
But it’s Pro Metal’s Every Child Matters Feather Project that’s drawing more public attention than the company’s success. The fundraiser uses proceeds from the sale of metal fabricated feathers to provide bursaries to Indigenous students enrolled at First Nations University of Canada, Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology, University of Regina, University of Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Polytechnic. It’s a project that grew out of the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools in Saskatchewan, says Brown.
“The feather project gave the general public an opportunity to help with the healing process and create change through education’’ says Brown. “There’s generational trauma there and we have to break the cycle. Education is a great way to do that.’’
The project raised $125,000 through the sale of 2,000 feathers in 2021, its inaugural year. It’s expected to raise the same amount by the time second-year sales wrap up around March. Brown explains that a feather redesign by artist Jonas Thompson of Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation is beautiful but more ornate than the original, and it’s taking longer to manufacture than anticipated. A parallel project is raising donations from PFN’s business and corporate partners to create feather markers for unmarked burial plots.
While the feather projects generate funds for current needs, Pro Metal and other companies in PFN’s economic development arm are focusing on building long-term economic opportunity for members while increasing Indigenous employment.
When Brown came on board three years ago, Pro Metal had only two Indigenous employees. That number has increased to 10 during Brown’s stewardship, a figure representing 38 per cent of the company’s staff. “Our ultimate goal is to have 100 per cent Indigenous employees, for sure,’’ says Brown. “But an achievable goal, right now, is 65 per cent.’’
Pro Metal’s strong growth and its focus on the education and economic development of the people who own it bodes well for achieving that goal.