Workers in North America’s gas and oil fields often have to work hundreds of miles from their homes, but they don’t have to feel like it. Noralta Lodge has been at the forefront of building and operating workforce lodging in some of the most remote places on the continent that nevertheless make guests feel more like they’re home than out in the middle of nowhere. President and CEO Corey Smith says the company is dedicated to the idea that workers in these remote environments deserve to have the comforts of home.
The company was founded by Lance Torgerson, who was born and raised in northern Alberta and therefore had a great deal of familiarity with the work camps typically set up on oilfield sites. Although these camps provided workers with the bare necessities of life, Smith says Torgerson felt that living in the industrial atmosphere of the camps was detrimental to the workers’ morale. “He found that camp life was as demanding as the daytime work activity, and there had to be an option for a more home-like atmosphere,” Smith says. “He figured there had to be a better way to house the hard-working men and women of the oilfield industry.”
Today, Noralta Lodge owns and operates nine lodges throughout northern Alberta, with approximately 6,000 rooms serving the men and women who work at numerous oil and gas sites in the region. The locations serve thousands of guests, but Noralta Lodge makes every effort to ensure that each guest has everything they need to feel at home.
A Different Way
When comparing one of Noralta Lodge’s locations with a more traditional work camp, the differences are readily apparent. Smith says from the size of the buildings to the offerings in the kitchen, Noralta Lodge distinguishes itself from the usual work camp in just about every conceivable way.
“It starts with a less-institutional design, look and feel,” Smith says. Rather than providing workers with a barracks-style arrangement that fits a few thousand people into one building, Noralta Lodge’s locations are designed in a village configuration, with multiple buildings of no more than 750 rooms arranged around the site. Smith says keeping the buildings small means the front desk staff of each building has the opportunity to get to know each guest on a more personal basis, and it keeps the dining facilities from feeling like massive cafeterias.
Each building also is built with modular construction, much like many residential properties. Smith says this stands in stark contrast to traditional work camps, which typically are build on skids and look more like trailers than permanent structures. Inside, the lodges are fitted with hotel-style fixtures and finishes, and dedicated boot rooms give guests a place to take their boots off without tracking mud through the building. “We consider ourselves more of a boutique-style facility,” Smith says.
That extends to the amenities found at each Noralta Lodge location. Smith says the company is the only one to offer a self-service gourmet buffet rather than cafeteria-style kitchens. Guests are treated to gourmet meals prepared by the company’s own Red Seal chefs. Guests’ rooms are equipped with flatscreen TVs, high-speed Internet access and private telephone lines to keep them connected to the world back home. State-of-the-art fitness centers are available as well as game rooms stocked with pool tables, foosball games and big-screen TVs.
Making It Work
Providing lodging in some of the world’s most remote locations can be a daunting task, and Smith says Noralta Lodge has gone above and beyond to make sure it is up to the challenge no matter where it wants to build. For example, getting its staff and construction crews to many of those locations is no easy feat. “Because of the remoteness, it’s not like our team members can just get in their cars and drive to work,” Smith says, adding that for this reason the company has invested in its own fleet of aircraft to shuttle staff in and out of many locations.
The company also has made numerous investments in its community. For example, the company is one of the key sponsors of the Western Canada Summer Games 2015 Wood Buffalo. The event will bring 2,500 athletes from across western Canada to the community of Wood Buffalo, and Noralta Lodge is the event’s official home base. The company will provide the athletes and officials with accommodations, food and full customer service.
Other challenges facing the company include the accessibility of land, which Smith says is one of the most difficult aspects of the company’s work. Although it would appear that there is plenty of open land in northern Alberta, Smith explains that the mineral rights for the vast majority of that land has already been spoken for, and the rights-holders are often reluctant to allow surface construction there.
Despite the challenges, Smith says the future looks good for Noralta Lodge. Savvy oil and gas companies have recognized the powerful tool good lodging can be for employee attraction and retention, and providing their workers with a good night’s sleep and good food goes a long way to keeping them safe and alert. As long as it continues to offer a better alternative for workforce lodging, Smith says, Noralta Lodge will continue to provide value for the companies and workers it serves. “I think we’re pioneers in recognizing that lodging is connected to wellness,” he says.