Born and raised in southern Ontario, Rob Reid hadn't travelled north until landing a job one summer with Ontario Hydro in North Bay. But the exposure to a different way of life influenced his perspective on business and helped shape his company, N-Sci Technologies, which is now celebrating its 10-year anniversary.
"That was really my first experience with Northern Ontario," Reid said. "I grew up in Belleville and had never been north of Barrie, and I really got attached to the uniqueness of Northern Ontario and the differences in the people."
Something about the Northern way of life stuck, and Reid and his wife, Melissa, decided to make the North their home. They eventually settled in Sault Ste. Marie and, after a stint with Great Lakes Power, Reid established N-Sci Technologies, an electrical and automation firm that specializes in energy projects; in particular, the installation of solar projects.
Though he'd never aspired to entrepreneurialism, Reid found satisfaction in creating a company that put the focus on quality of life, both at work and at home. N-Sci is guided by the tenets of honesty, integrity, inclusiveness, openness and responsibility.
"We put our customers first, which a lot of companies talk about. From an engineering perspective, it's typically more about the design or the work that you're doing rather than who you're doing it for or why you're doing it at all," Reid said. "We definitely try to come at it from a perspective that each project is unique and offers an opportunity to provide an interesting and unique solution."
One of the company's big accomplishments to date is getting approval from the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) to go ahead with a complex solar installation project that had stymied larger, international firms. It was the first time a project of that scope had been approved in Ontario and it paved the way for similar installations across the province.
"We just felt, with our background with the ESA, we understood the code well enough, and we could find a way to make that work," Reid said. "Sure enough, we were able to find the right combination of factors to be able to get that approved."
Over the last year, N-Sci has expanded its services into Alberta, and the company is now actively exploring the market to find ways to apply N-Sci's Ontario-honed expertise in Alberta.
"As deregulation has come into place and there's more of a fractured industry, there's just becoming a bigger gap between the utilities and their customers," Reid said. "We feel we can fill that gap in several different ways, not just from an engineering standpoint, but also from a regulatory support perspective."
Reid has also cultivated a culture of community involvement at the firm, himself contributing his knowledge to groups like the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp. to help businesses get off the ground.
As a member of the Northern Advisory Committee developing the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario, Reid said he was encouraged to see people from around the North bring their input to the table to talk about how to encourage economic development in Northern Ontario.
But even with the province's supportive agencies in place, getting the growth plan up and running has been a challenge.
"More and more, I think you're seeing companies throughout Northern Ontario that are playing in a more global marketplace, and I think that's fantastic, and it's great to see, but somehow, it still seems like we're always trying to push a rope uphill," he said.
He advocates for a collaborative approach, as a region, to be proactive instead of waiting to see what comes the North's way.
"Even though we may not have the biggest communities, or the biggest postsecondary institutions, I just think there's a lot of opportunity that's being missed," Reid said. "It's sort of unfortunate that we can't harness that better."