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Export Award: KBM Resources Group

"Everyone is a salesperson or has the capacity to be."

Being adaptable, innovative and doggedly pursuing new opportunities has served KBM Resources Group

It was the downturn of the forest industry in northwestern Ontario that forced the Thunder Bay consulting firm to take stock and reassess the wisdom of putting all its eggs in one basket.

After watching the sector get beaten up for the better part of a decade, co-owners Laird Van Damme and Peter Higgelke decided they needed to branch out.

"The recession hit and it was very tough times," said Van Damme. "We didn't know when forestry was going to come back. That was a real motivator. We had time on our hands and we had to look at things differently."

Incorporated in 1974 by founder Herb Bax, the roots of the 30-employee company have always been deeply entrenched in forestry. Its early beginnings were focused on site preparation, planting, seeding and distributing reforestation equipment imported from Sweden. For a time, KBM even operated a eucalyptus harvesting and chipping plantation in Chile.

"When Peter and I became partners, there were one or two forestry players that dominated the revenue stream," said Van Damme. "We thought, this is risky."

The transition began in 2010 with a name change from KBM Forestry Consultants to KBM Resources Group.

The switch from skidders to light aircraft, and from diesel to aviation fuel, came out of necessity.

They hired a business development manager and have successfully transferred their expertise in forest management, aerial photography and mapping to clients in the mining and energy sectors.

"We knew everyone in the forest sector so we didn't spend much on business development," said Van Damme. "We're now paying more attention to that."

By broadening their scope, KBM has become a force in Thunder Bay's emerging mining supply sector while still maintaining its edge in forest management planning.

The company had always sponsored university research in geomatic technology and invested heavily in acquiring state-of-the-art aerial survey and digital photography equipment and GIS mapping systems.

"A lot of the stuff you do for forestry is applicable to any kind of development that requires an environmental assessment," said Van Damme.

The company now has a foothold in the Ring of Fire through Cliffs Natural Resources, its biggest private sector client, for whom they've carried out field survey and infrastructure planning work.

With a satellite office in Prince Albert, Sask., the company intends to make inroads into the potash and uranium sectors.

The company also maps corridors for utility companies, works with First Nation communities on land-use planning projects, with renewable energy firms on siting wind and solar farms, and has partnered with engineering firms on mining projects.

With three aircraft in their possession, the company continues to invest in high-tech mapping and planning tools with the recent purchase of a $1-million advanced Lidar system.

To keep the business leads coming, an internal development team meets every two weeks to brainstorm ideas, develop strategy and assess new products and services.

"Everyone is a salesperson or has the capacity to be," said Van Damme.

KBM's retail store is also a revenue generator, selling prospecting and survey supplies including reams of flagging tape, GPS tools and satellite phones. They're also making headway into the Iron Range of northern Minnesota as a distributor for Entac Emulsion Products, an environmentally- friendly soil binding agent for controlling dust in mines, road shoulders and tailings ponds.