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Mendiola: Now at the ordnance plant

Mark Mendiola
Eastern Idaho

The opening of an ATCO Structures & Logistics modular housing plant inside the Gateway West Industrial Center last April on Pocatello’s north end has given the former Naval Ordnance Plant a lift and provided a needed positive boost for a community hit by layoffs at ON Semiconductor and Hoku’s polysilicon plant.

About 95 electricians, carpenters, plumbers and other crafts already have manufactured modular units for shipping offsite as ATCO, a Canadian-based company, gets established in the Gate City. When its plant hits peak capacity, it will be able to manufacture two to three units a day.

ATCO has delayed hiring another 60 workers offered jobs until back-ordered material and safety equipment arrives, including tie-off systems to protect them from falling from heights. That may take about two months, but meanwhile production will continue and not be halted.

Bill Haliburton, vice president of manufacturing in North America, expects 200 ultimately will be hired as operations ramp up inside its 200,000-square-foot Building 36, where massive cranes inside the cavernous structure can lift heavy tonnage.

“We are really pleased with the reception we have had in Pocatello,” he says, adding the location has met ATCO’s needs. “Our ultimate goal is an incident-free work place. Safety is the number one priority at all our locations.”

Virtually all of its Pocatello employees are locals as ATCO strives to procure its services and supplies from area vendors, such as SME Steel. ATCO’s modular units have been targeted for Canadian provinces, North Dakota, Wyoming and other states where projects demand housing for personnel, especially oil, gas and tar sand patches.

Based at Calgary, Alberta, ATCO was founded in 1947 when S.D. Southern and his son Ronald D. Southern bought 15 utility trailers for hire in the Calgary area as Alberta Trailer Hire. Ronald Southern announced last May his intention to step down as ATCO’s board chairman in 2013.

Nancy C. Southern, his daughter and ATCO’s president, chief executive officer and deputy chair, announced ATCO would sponsor five Idaho State University scholarships when she visited the Pocatello modular housing plant for a ribbon cutting about four months ago.

The $13 billion ATCO Group employs 8,800 on five continents and boasted $330 million in earnings last year. It has ownership interest in nine natural gas gathering and processing facilities and 18 power generation facilities globally.

Bill Haliburton, ATCO vice president of manufacturing in North America, expects his company’s modular housing plant in Pocatello ultimately will employ 200 when it ramps up to full production.


ATCO Structures & Logistics is one of its many divisions, providing infrastructure solutions, including space rentals, work force housing, lodging and food services, site support services, defense and disaster relief support, engineering, manufacturing, site construction, emissions management and noise reduction.

In addition to the Pocatello plant, ATCO’s other manufacturing sites are at Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta; Wichita Falls and Diboll, Texas; Lima, Peru; Santiago, Chile, and Brisbane, Townsville and Perth, Australia. ATCO’s Texas plants are a long distance from the Intermountain West. That was a key reason ATCO decided to put a plant in Pocatello, which company officials view as a very strategic location.

“We didn’t have a reach from Texas to Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming,” Haliburton says, citing Pocatello’s proximity to Western Canada and transportation advantages. “There are larger companies, but no one that I’m aware has the geographic reach worldwide like we do.”

The ATCO vice president praises Pocatello’s trade skills capacity, available material and community support. Most of its shipping will be by truck. “Historically, rail has not been a low cost solution unless going direct to a project site, which we rarely are,” Haliburton says.

ATCO Structures, ATCO Frontec and ATCO Noise Management merged in 2009 to form ATCO Structures & Logistics, which delivered a record $89 million of adjusted earnings in 2011, representing nearly 30 percent of ATCO Group’s consolidated earnings. It enjoyed growth in sales and profitability, securing six significant work force housing and site services contracts to support development in resource-rich areas of North America, South America and Australia.

Haliburton points out that ATCO also has established a presence in Afghanistan, where it provides utilities services at Kandahar Airfield and has been awarded several supplementary agreements to support 30,000 international troops.

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