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Adventurer to businessman

Arny's construction company specializes in roadwork throughout the NWT

Thorunn Howatt
Northern News Services

Rae (Aug 12/02) - Adventure in the North. That was the newspaper classified ad that caught the eye of a young 18-year-old Arny Steinwand.

"This is for me," he said.

So he packed his bags and moved north from Edmonton. Forty-five years later, the entrepreneur and owner of Arny's contracting and construction business in Rae is still in the North.

"We do roadwork, chip-seal, paving, airports," said Steinwand explaining that right now his company has five projects on the go.

"We bid on jobs as they come out."

Most of the roadwork is tendered by the Government of the Northwest Territories. One of Arny's current projects is revitalizing the Frank Channel bridge near Rae.

The advertisement that first brought Steinwand North was for a job as a clerk with the Hudson's Bay Company.

"We heard stories about it. People talking. The prospecting and the mining and the hunting and the fishing."

But by the time he was 24 he wanted more, so he bought his own trading post and ran it until 1997. His biggest competition was his old employer, the Hudson's Bay Company -- now called the Northern store.

"I got into construction about 1990," he said. He owns the company along with his wife, who has a Dogrib background, and five children.

Most of the company's work is seasonal, so it doesn't own much equipment.

Instead, Steinwand leases machinery, complete with crews, from the South. He does try to hire local employees, though.

"We keep as many as we can. The local people are in a different work cycle than we are when we do these jobs," he said.

Road contracts are a race against time and weather so workers have to put in long, hard hours. When a contractor comes from the South, he usually wants to get the job done as fast as possible and then get home to his family.

Northerners are already at home and often want to work at a moderate pace.

So other jobs -- such as those at diamond mines -- are often more appealing. Even Steinwand's own children like to work at the mines.

"One of my boys is working for me right now. But they come and go. They like those diamond mine jobs, too. But if I need them, they will come and help out," he said.

Finding qualified people is a challenge in a territory that has the highest rate of employment in the country.

The Northwest Territories has been suffering from a severe labour shortage since diamond mining has put thousands of people to work.

Steinwand plans to stay in Rae, close to his children, and talks about the community with pride.

"It's the biggest native settlement in the Northwest Territories - that doesn't exactly make it small. I know we are being overlooked all the time but we shouldn't be."