The demand Christchurch's rebuild has placed on engineering services has seen businesses flock to town. Beca's Craig Price tells Alexander Speirs the consultancy has faced substantial challenges and emerged a stronger, more robust firm for it.
For Craig Price it has been all about dealing with the consequences and effects of the earthquakes while striving to draw positives for the city of Christchurch.
"We're not looking past the tragedy. None of us are, but it's happened -- so now it's our responsibility as business leaders to make sure that we are working to produce the best outcomes for Christchurch, says the South Island general manager for the NZ-based engineering consultancy.
Price has led Beca's South Island team throughout the rebuild.
"From a business point of view, there were multiple challenges. During the initial periods of the most disruption, our clients wanted and needed our support while at the same time we are trying to manage our business continuity. With all of the infrastructure that goes alongside running a business of our size, getting us back in a state to be able to help those most in need was the top priority -- but a huge job in itself."
Prior to the earthquake, Beca Christchurch was based out of the PWC Tower downtown, right in the heart of the red zone. "We were shaken out of that building and have since set up shop in a number of locations. Like a lot of the city and the communities, the earthquake really galvanised people into action and knitted them together; there was a real camaraderie.
"I can recall once we found a motel and set up a headquarters of sorts, two packed station wagons arrived from Auckland -- full of laptops, hard hats, safety boots, some stationery and all those sorts of things just to get us up and running. The support we were able to derive through that internal network was certainly something that was important to us.
"For the first nine months, we were in hotels and motels, portacoms, even a Transpower sub-station. It was all about improvising and making the best of the situation," he recalls. " Christchurch City Council granted us permission to place four portacoms at a waste water treatment plant, it gave us somewhere to house 30 staff while they got 30 engineers on tap who can help out."
Having those specialised staff on site proved to be a coup for Council, which has faced the same difficulties with the labour market as most of the other businesses in the region. Structural engineers, technical engineers and project managers were in high demand in the early phases of the rebuild. With commercial buildings proceeding, mechanical and geotechnical engineers are in high demand.
"The dynamic nature of the market, and I'm not talking about the earth moving, has been one of the biggest challenges down here," says Price. "There are a lot of new players in the market, new clients, new people and it's hard to predict precisely what is happening and going to happen.
"We've had to deal with resourcing on a number of levels and we've grown the business in what we see as a steady and controlled manner. Six months following the earthquake, estimates of the rebuild job were around the $15 billion figure. That figure has crept up and now the number typically being quoted down here is $40 billion."
At the time of first earthquake in September 2100, the local Beca team was made up of 170 people -- that has ballooned to almost 300 staff working out of a handful of temporary dwellings until a larger and more permanent solution comes along. "There has been a lot of stop-start going on and that has been managed and supported by our resourcing strategy. We've used a mixed model where we have recruited and grown the business with a combination of people from other parts of Beca and further afar.
"The bigger story has been the response of our people and their ability to step up when called upon. That has been the biggest success for us during this period. Many people would say, 'why would you want to go live in Christchurch?' but if you're an engineer, it's actually why wouldn't you want to live in Christchurch? There are the career opportunities of a lifetime down here, those which for a number of people will define their careers."
Craig Price: in his own words
"As a Cantabrian, we can be pretty parochial, pretty one-eyed and I am inherently optimistic and positive about the future for the city of Christchurch and the region. It's early days to start feeling like we've accomplished too much yet, there's still a lot to be done.
"One of the real constraints of this post-quake environment is cost.
"Money doesn't grow on trees and we're seeing almost every project having to address the cost constraints that go along with it. Constraints drive innovation however and one of the most exciting opportunities to arise has been the chance to use this as a catalyst to do the kinds of things that aren't run of the mill.
"Low damage design, base isolation, resilient infrastructure - it's not necessarily new ideas but implementing them in ways that haven't been widely used before. From a sustainability point of view too, the people of Christchurch cried out for a green city and a number of technologies are being adopted to provide buildings that will have a lower operating cost and environmental cost over their lifetime.
"It feels as though we've turned the corner the last couple of months down here in Christchurch.
"We're starting to see the fruits of our labour. We've been doing a lot of investigation and analysis, but it seemed like all we've been seeing around us was demolition. Now we're seeing buildings that we're involved with starting to come out of the ground."