The decision for the Province of B.C. and their Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) to privatize the work done on highways and bridges in 1988 changed the career of one employee, while providing the groundwork for Dawson Group to enter the highway and bridge maintenance industry over the next few decades.
It was a dramatic shift for myself, for the province and for Dawson. I think it worked out great for everyone in the end,” said Larry Nelson, who retired from Interior Roads Limited (now known as Dawson Road Maintenance) in July 2017 after 29 years with the company.
For 17 years leading up to the privatization decision, Nelson was supervising bridge construction and highway maintenance for the province and was working out of Vernon, Victoria and eventually 100 Mile House as the acting District Highway Manager.
“I really like to get things done. I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a project you worked on come to an end. I also liked to manage programs and work with large forces,” said Nelson, now 70. “Dawson gave me the opportunity to expand on what I was doing with the province.”
Nelson bounced around the Thompson, Robson and Cariboo areas in the late 80s and early 90s, spending three years running the highway maintenance in Thompson Service Area (SA) 15, then up to Valemont (SA 20) for another five years as Operations Manager before moving back to Kamloops in 1996 to take over as the new General Manager of Interior Roads, a title he held until he retired in July 2017.
The job changed significantly over those years. When highway contracts went private, contracts for companies were quite small. In 1988, the first deal Nelson worked on was a three-year contract. From there, the renewal dates went to points of the year with better weather and the contracts got longer over time. Soon, Nelson was working on five, 10 and eventually 15 year deals with the province.
“The main reason the contracts got extended was to keep the contractors invested for the long term. Three year deals were a very short window to get any payback on your equipment. With the longer contracts, both the province and the companies could create and execute better maintenance plans, be more economically efficient and purchase better and more appropriate equipment,” said Nelson.
One of the things he loved the most about working in the private sector was discovering the ability to connect with people and communities around the province.
“We maintained a lot of diverse road and bridge networks and worked on a lot of different rehabilitation projects in several communities. In doing so, we became a part of those communities and established good relationships with the community members,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges Nelson recalls, one where he says everyone came together, was the highway and bridge repair work during the Bella Coola floods in 2010. Interior Roads teamed up with Dawson Civil and Dawson Construction to provide exceptional services to the infrastructure and residents of the Bella Coola Valley. That flood restoration project earned them the Premier’s Award.
“There were always challenges that popped up, none quite like that one, however. But that’s just part of managing highway maintenance issues. You have contract expectations and public obligations that you need to meet on top of all the work and relationship building within that community,” said Nelson.
Over time, Nelson added to his responsibilities by serving as manager of SCR Properties Ltd., after the opportunity arose to purchase nine of the highway maintenance facilities. During his tenure with Interior Roads, Nelson became involved with the B.C. Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association, and the Highway Maintenance Sector. He served as the chair of the Maintenance Sector and sat on their board for seven years. During that time, he was very involved in the creation of the Winter Driving Safety Alliance’s “Shift Into Winter” public safety educational program to foster safe winter driving habits.
“What I enjoyed most about Dawson Group was being part of a bigger team of several companies and helping each other with the things we all needed at times to be a successful as a group. I especially appreciated the trust and respect by Ian Dawson (Owner). He allowed me to innovate and gave me the freedom to manage in ways that were largely profitable over the long term. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Dawson and everyone I met along the way.”
On our 100th Anniversary, Dawson Group extends its sincerest gratitude to Larry Nelson for his 29 years of dedicated service. His contributions helped us achieve this significant milestone and lay the groundwork for our promising future.