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Manufacturing Winners: David Taft and Rick McClymont, Co-founders, Britco Group of Companies

Pity the poor pioneer who ordered a home-building kit from Sears Roebuck in 1908, only to find it literally took a village to successfully turn its 30,000 pieces into his dream house. Manufactured homes have come a long way since those early mail-order kits and the prefab boxes that began rolling off the assembly lines in the 1950s. Take, for example, this year's PNE prize: a stunning 3,000-square-foot post-and-beam structure built by Langley-based Britco Group, the largest designer and manufacturer of custom-built mobile and modular buildings in the Pacific Northwest. During the fair, more than 100,000 visitors lusted after its 20-foot vaulted ceilings, three bedrooms, media room, gourmet kitchen, wine room and hot tub. It's a testament to the innovative creativity of industry leaders such as Britco co-founders and managing partners David Taft and Rick McClymont that prefab (now repositioned in the marketplace as "modular construction") has shed its tawdry trailer-park image and acquired a cool new cachet. Britco's clients have access to architects, engineers and designers willing to customize anything from new homes to hotels, daycare centres and employee digs for resource projects. All are factory-built here in B.C., and the modules are dispatched across the globe. A whole new generation of highly discriminating customers has come to expect quality craftsmanship and decor with a touch of luxe from a company whose projects have won the "best at show" title seven times at the prestigious Modular Building Institute's annual convention. Last year, reflecting its international reach from Russia to Tanzania, the B.C. Export Awards dubbed Britco the province's number-one exporter of manufactured products. These are heady times for Taft and McClymont, an affable duo who each borrowed $10,000 from their moms to get their entrepreneurial toehold. Maternal faith paid off: over the next 30 years the two grew the business from $794,000 in revenues in year one to a projected $74 million in 2007. Their modest start involved relocating buildings in a remote B.C. aboriginal community. That first year, they opened a small manufacturing plant and within a month turned out two mobile government-lab trailers destined for the Yukon. Taft says their flexibility and commitment to fiscal conservatism kept them afloat during two major economic downturns, when much of the competition went under. In 1988 they opened a plant in Agassiz, and in 2005, after winning a massive $18-million workforce housing project for Bema Gold Corp. in Siberia, they added another operation in Penticton. Today Britco employs 280 staff at two factories. It also operates a leasing division; a sales, design and project-management group at its head office; and satellite offices in Nanaimo, Edmonton, Kelowna and Kamloops. The company turns out more than 600 modular structures a year. After 30 years in the trenches, Taft and McClymont have no plans to go public or to retire anytime soon. Directing their operations from surprisingly swanky digs smack in the middle of Fraser Valley farm country, the two still strategize over lunch almost every day. Why does their partnership work? "I don't -really know," Taft says with a laugh. "I'd say we have similar backgrounds and a similar sense of humour, and we're both big on communication, which is important when you're building a business." As well as eyeing opportunities in the developing world, especially China and India, the duo have their sights on some major Canadian pipeline and oil patch opportunities. And there's a hush-hush project on the burner for VANOC in 2010. Until recently, the only thing holding them back was limited production capacity, adds McClymont, but that is changing, and fast. "We've already invested $1 million to expand Penticton and plan to spend the same amount at Agassiz. There are a lot of great opportunities out there, especially in Alberta, where local production has maxed out. We see plenty of growth ahead." Runners-up Robert Meggy Consistently listed among Canada's best-managed companies, the Great Little Box Company Ltd. also aims to annihilate the competition when it comes to customer satisfaction. President and CEO Robert Meggy's latest move, absorbing a local label manufacturer, has cemented his firm's rep as a one-stop shop for packaging needs. While their boss plots further industry domination, GLBC's 185 employees enjoy the latest spoils: a new rooftop garden, gazebo and beach volleyball court at the Richmond head office. Dick Kouwenhoven Whether his Burnaby operations are turning out business cards or coffee-table books, Hemlock Printers Ltd. president and CEO Dick Kouwenhoven insists on the same attention to quality as he did when he launched his business almost 40 years ago. Kouwenhoven has turned Hemlock into Western Canada's largest commercial sheet-fed printer by embracing technological change and identifying new growth opportunities. For the past two years, Hemlock has nabbed the Most Environmentally Progressive Printer in Canada award at the annual Environmental Printing Awards hosted by PrintAction magazine. Winners:

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