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The Drift: Tired of saying 'no,' Nairn Centre fabrication shop expands

A10 Fabrication seeking to expand client base with 10,000-square-foot space

When the finishing touches are applied to his new welding shop later this fall, it will mark nearly a decade of progress for Marc Benoit and the team at A10 Fabrication.

Since 2013, A10 has provided customized fabrication services for a steady stream of mining, forestry and industry clients from its Nairn Centre shop, about 40 minutes west of Sudbury.

But even as its reputation flourished, growth stalled. Not because of a lack of projects or clientele, but because the shop had simply run out of space to house them all.

“For a good three or four years now, we’ve been forced to say no to way too much work, and to a lot of great employees that want to come in and start working with us,” said Benoit, A10's president and CEO.

“We’re just tired of saying ‘no.’”

With the expansion project, just under 6,000 square feet of shop space will be added to A10’s existing operation, bringing its total work space to more than 10,000 square feet.

A key feature will be an overhead crane system — a first for A10 — which will enable the shop to take on a broader scope of work.

“We’ve had to say no to jobs just on the ability to get them in and out of the shop with forklifts,” Benoit said. “So, now we’ll be able to take on much larger-scale jobs.”

The new building is a Robertson pre-engineered structure, which is expected to arrive in late November or early December, after which Benoit estimates it will be erected in about five or six weeks.

To accommodate the expansion, Benoit anticipates hiring four to five welder-fabricators for the shop and another one or two office workers, but he’s also considering recruiting foreign workers to meet his needs.

“I definitely would like to help with Canada’s shortage with repopulation, and get some good skilled workers here,” he said.

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Although these days Benoit is happiest in the welding shop, it wasn’t always that way.

Growing up in the Sudbury bedroom community of Lively, he dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. That changed in Grade 11 when he signed up for a shop class as a “filler, just to try and get extra credit,” he said.

He quickly fell in love with the trades and completed the welding and fabrication technician program at Cambrian College in 2009.

Seeing many of his peers go a different route, and fail to find success in the workforce, Benoit is grateful for the decision.

“I took the chance on making money right out of school, and it paid off, for sure,” he said.

“If you are a tradesman today, you can pretty much choose where you want to work right now.”

When his brother and two partners launched A10 in 2013, Benoit said, he wasn’t quite ready to take the helm.

Instead, he worked his way up, starting out as supervisor, before moving into the general manager's role.

Two and a half years ago, he bought out all three partners and became A10’s sole proprietor.

Some of the most recognizable names in industry are A10 clients — Sandvik, Komatsu, Kovaterra, Orica among others — who rely on the shop for its custom manufacturing, machining, millwrighting, and civil work.

But Benoit said an expanded shop will also enable the company to offer a separate line of products that it designs and manufactures for retail sale.

One of A10’s bestsellers are its tailor-made firepits — customized with everything from nature scenes to your favourite hockey logo — which have, in some cases, opened the door to opportunities for additional contracts.

“We’ve done millions of dollars (in business) with some customers that started with a firepit,” Benoit said.

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With 42 acres at his disposal, Benoit’s expansion of A10 is part of a greater development plan for the area.

He’s currently in the process of establishing a 10-lot industrial park on the property, which is located on Highway 6 and a stone’s throw from Highway 17. Talks are ongoing with a number of prospective clients interested in a tenancy there.

One current partner, his alma mater Cambrian College, has used the site to run programs through its mobile trades training trailer. A10 has worked closely with the college to host training programs and has even hired a couple of students after graduation.

Although his initial plan was to develop one lot every year, interest has generated so quickly, Benoit foresees that plan being expedited as potential clients finalize design plans.

For its efforts, A10 was recognized earlier in 2022 as Small Enterprise of the Year by the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce.

Humbled by the recognition, Benoit described his shop as having a family-like atmosphere where everyone takes care of each other and prioritizes giving back to the community.

He’s so optimistic about A10 that he expects as much growth in the next couple of years as what A10’s seen in the last decade.

“It’s amazing how fast we’re growing,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to hiring new people to get new insight on how to do jobs and new types of work, and we very much want to hire the right guys to take care of whatever we need.”