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Firms see beyond Haitian disaster Add to ...

SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. has operated in Haiti for the past 40 years as one of the country's largest engineering firms, building the Canadian embassy and planning road and water works throughout the country.

Now, the Montreal-based company is taking on a new task: assisting in emergency efforts in the devastated capital city, Port-au-Prince.

SNC's office there was untouched in last week's earthquake, but only yesterday was the company able to confirm that all 80 of its employees in the country are safe. Workers are now trying to help with immediate needs such as inspecting buildings and identifying water sources.

The company will be donating goods and services to help rebuild water facilities, roads and power supply, said Yves Cadotte, Montreal-based general manager at SNC's transportation, infrastructure and buildings division.

"We could be in a good position to help. ... We have a lot of people who know the environment well in Haiti. So I hope we'd be able to provide support to the relief effort," he said.

Canadian companies including Desjardins Group, Rogers Communications, Canadian National Railway and Tim Hortons have donated more than $4-million to help with emergency relief, with much of the funds going to medical and water purification supplies.

Those who do business in Haiti, though, have a longer-term horizon: rebuilding operations in a ravaged region.

Gildan Activewear Inc. hasn't heard from six of its 44 employees in Haiti, where it has been operating for the past 10 years, and by now the Montreal T-shirt maker is assuming the worst.

One of its contractors' buildings collapsed while in full production, with 1,000 people inside. "It appears there are no survivors," said Laurence Sellyn, executive vice-president of finance and administration.

Gildan is "working hard to direct rescue operations towards our contractor facility," the company said Friday in an internal memo, though "this task is proving to be frustratingly difficult due to the chaos that is reigning in Haiti."

The company has a team in neighbouring Dominican Republic that is trying to get supplies to its workers in Haiti. Longer term, Gildan plans to continue support for its workers - and to help get production facilities running again.

"We are 100-per-cent committed," Mr. Sellyn said.

Other companies are vowing to stay in the country, even as they mourn the deaths of their workers. Michelet Philippe, a Haitian manager for Montreal-based mining company Somine SA, died last Thursday. He was found in the debris of the company's offices, 12 hours after the quake.

"We will let the international help do their work," said president Jacqueline Monfourny. "But after, we will be back and we will, through our activities, help the economic development of the country."

Given the urgent need for food, water, shelter and medical help for quake survivors, it's too early to say how a rebuilding effort will take shape. But the longer-term challenge is an issue on the minds of many members of Canada's business community.

Several Canadian companies will undoubtedly be interested in providing goods and services when the rebuilding effort gets under way, said Ghislain Maltais, a Quebec City-based management consultant and president of the Francophone Business Forum.

"We've got a lot to offer in terms of our engineering know-how and state-of-the-art building techniques."

With files from reporter Bertrand Marotte in Montreal

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