FHQ Developments: Advancing Indigenous business

Feature image - FHQ Development CEO Thomas Benjoe-The-Canadian-Business-Quarterly
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A First Nations Development Corporation founded in 2010, FHQ Developments was formed by the eleven member First Nation communities of File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) in Saskatchewan, and now represents over 16,000 First Nation citizens and 435,000 acres of reserve lands in Treaty 4 territory.

Thomas Benjoe is President & CEO of FHQ Developments, an organization mandated to grow its portfolio of business investments and partnerships, as well as to support Nation Economic Development, Entrepreneurship and Indigenous HR & Employment solutions. Mr Benjoe serves on a number of committees and boards, including the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, and is recognized as one of the Top 10 Most Influential Economic Developers by Treaty 4 News, a feature that profiles business leaders, job creators and entrepreneurs who have made a valuable contribution to improving the lives of Indigenous people through business. Mr Benjoe spoke with The Canadian Business Executive to discuss the different industry sectors that FHQ works in, the focus on sustainability and creating impact to contribute to local economies, and the organization’s commitment to creating a safe space for Indigenous procurement to thrive.

Creating pathways for Indigenous citizens

“We are a First Nations Development Corporation,” Mr Benjoe explains. “We focus on investments and the creation of new businesses and partnerships within Saskatchewan, but we also have other mandates that we support around economic development.”

These other mandates involve offering support to some of the eleven First Nations that make up the FHQTC of southern Saskatchewan, which the organization supports by finding resources and best practices to help these Nations grow their businesses.

“As part of economic development, we also focus on entrepreneurship. So we’re trying to find ways to better guide and provide resources from other organizations to deliver better services to our entrepreneurs from our communities.”

The organization also works in an Indigenous HR capacity, where it is trying to develop better ways of managing Indigenous HR consulting, as well as creating pathways for citizens throughout the Nations to advance their careers by helping with recruitment and retention efforts from clients throughout Saskatchewan.

Based in Regina, FHQ Developments’ footprint stretches throughout the province of Saskatchewan. The organization also ventures into other territories, where it is involved in different types of contracts that come up from time to time.

“We always have the vision to grow and expand our businesses even beyond our Saskatchewan borders, and looking at opportunities in other markets. We have seen and been a part of RFPs in other jurisdictions, so we’re really trying to grow and strengthen our business here at our core and then look to expand our services outside of Saskatchewan.”

A decade of service

FHQ Developments has been in operation since 2010. Mr Benjoe was a member of the founding Board of Directors, and served on the board for a number of years. About four years ago he took on the role as CEO.

“My board approached me and asked if I wanted to take on the leadership role,” he says. “I was much obliged, and this is something that I’m very passionate about. Now I’m able to help lead one of the most innovative Indigenous Development Corporations in Canada.”

When the organization started, it didn’t have much capital to work with. It was able to establish itself based purely on strategy, by leveraging best business practices from other Indigenous Development Corporations across the nation.

“We also looked at the governance structure of the organization, making sure that was rooted in the best governance practices, and from there we went out and sought out business. At that point in time we looked at any opportunity that came available to us to be able to begin generating our own revenue for operations.”

Over the years, FHQ has found itself in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose its affiliations, making sure its partners are well-aligned with its values. This has meant it must make tough decisions to leave partnerships when the alignment disappears.

“What has really changed is our focus, [which] is sustainability, creating impact, not only for our communities, but the greater economy, and being able to grow and develop a strong Indigenous workforce inside of our organizations. Even for our non-Indigenous employees, making sure they feel valued as treaty people within this territory that they feel pride working for an organization like FHQ Developments through the businesses that we own.”

3. FHQ Development - editorial image-The-Canadian-Business-Quarterly
FHQ Developments is helping boost both Saskatchewan’s local economies and the national economy

There are now eight different companies that make up the umbrella of FHQ Developments, with construction being the organization’s bread-and-butter since its very earliest days, having created a lot of success over the years.

“We have now added janitorial services and other types of contracting. We’ve done a lot of work in the industrial sector – we’re looking at mining, and oil & gas, supporting those industries, and we’re now looking at how our services in construction can participate in some of the renewable energy sector as well.”

In addition, the organization owns a drilling rig, which might seem odd in this day and age, but a number of solid partnerships have helped maintain that asset for the organization, and it continues to operate even through tough times in the market.

“Our asset has been working in the market, so we’re quite proud of that accomplishment,” Mr Benjoe admits, “to be able to keep an asset working, when we know that others have not had that same success in the market.”

Another sector the organization works within is hospitality, where it has an ownership stake with other partners in a hotel in Swift Current, which is starting to show some positive trends in occupancy rates.

The organization is taking the opportunity it has been presented to build its knowledge and experience in the technology industry, and continues to look at ways to expand its investment in the tech sector. 

“We know the future is technology, and the better we’re able to build an understanding around risk-profiles for that industry, the better position we’re going to be in to be able to invest and grow other tech companies in Saskatchewan.”

The industries that FHQ will be looking to create more impact in will be heavily focused on renewable energy, and it is currently exploring strategies around the Ag industry, in terms of technology, manufacturing and supply chain.

“We do a lot of work in the mining sector, so we have some pretty deep-rooted relationships with a lot of the potash mines in Saskatchewan. Right now, we’re just continuing to grow and expand our relationship with those mine sites.”

With the province of Saskatchewan recently announcing a spend of $7B on infrastructure, FHQ will have the chance to look into more potential opportunities that might arise from some of its provincial ministries and crown corporations.

Indigenous procurement

“Alongside what we do as an organization, there is an important responsibility I feel that we have as a Development Corporation to make sure that we’re influencing and advocating for Indigenous procurement with organizations, not only in Saskatchewan, but across Canada.”

The organization has been heavily involved with the establishment of procurement policies within different organizations, always being mindful to give critical feedback on some of these organizations’ processes, as well as to bring more awareness to the importance of Indigenous procurement.

“When we choose to make that investment in Indigenous business, we’re choosing to create an opportunity to make a greater impact in our own economy, and the structure that FHQ Developments has created over the years has given us the opportunity to create greater impact, not only for our communities, but the economy in general.”

In recognizing the wealth that is created from projects it’s involved in, FHQ can see much of that profit being reinvested into new companies and also in projects that are important in its own communities, especially around youth services.

“We take a lot of the wealth that has been generated and we reinvest it into programs that are typically not government-funded,” Mr Benjoe says, “and we’re providing that resource there to help build up our future workforce.”

Some other ways the organization creates impact is simply by employing Indigenous people, which as an act generates a significant amount of wealth, which is being funneled into other useful ventures.

“Even our non-Indigenous staff – they’re all from Saskatchewan, they’re taking that wealth and they’re reinvesting in their families and in their local economies. The dollars that we’re earning through these contracts are continuously spun through our economies.” 

FHQ Development-Saskatoon photographer-The-Canadian-Business-Quarterly
“We do a lot of work in the mining sector...Right now, we’re just continuing to grow and expand our relationship with those mine sites” Photo by David Stobbe / Stobbephoto.ca

FHQ talks with organizations about making these changes, with conversations being had around price, quality of work, service, timelines and safety. Indigenous procurement allows the organization to see a greater impact in local communities. 

“In a segment of our population that has been typically barred out from being able to participate in the economy, through government policy and other historic issues [that] have kept us out of the economy – now what we’re saying is, we’re not asking for handouts to participate in the economy, we’re asking for a hand-up.”

Indigenous businesses are merely asking to be given the same opportunity that every other business would have had in the past, to be allowed to participate and bring some of their value systems into their clients’ value systems.

“It’s tough to try and change minds and to try and change systems,” Mr Benjoe says. “As an Indigenous organization, when a lot of these organizations are making policies that affect us, oftentimes we’re not at the table. It’s so important to have Indigenous leaders at the table, to help guide and answer questions to some of the issues that may pose problems or barriers.”

FHQ Developments aims to create a safe space for tough questions to be asked, so that those questions can be answered in a way where there is proper consultation on some of the underlying issues that not everyone completely understands.

“When we work together and have that safe space to have difficult conversations, that’s when the real work gets done. That’s what we want to be a part of, and the quicker we can be a part of those conversations and change those mindsets, the quicker we’re going to be able to see changes in our own economy and the advancement of Indigenous business.”

With its commitment to working with Indigenous businesses and promoting Indigenous procurement, FHQ Developments is helping boost both Saskatchewan’s local economies and the national economy. Find out more about FHQ Developments by visiting https://fhqdev.com.

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