British Columbia

'A blow to Prince George': Heavy equipment auctioneers closing northern B.C. location as sales move online

Heavy equipment auctioneers Ritchie Bros. are closing five locations across North America, including Prince George, B.C.

City says Ritchie Bros. auctions helped attract investors to the region

Thousands of bidders take part in heavy equipment auctions set up by Ritchie Bros. around the world.

International industrial sales group Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers is closing five locations across North America, including Prince George, to focus on online sales and larger locations.

In an email to employees, company CEO Ravi Saligram said the closure of small sites comes as more people are taking part in auctions online rather than in person.

"In fact, over half of all winning RBA bids today come from online bidders," he wrote.

He also said those who attend live auctions prefer to do it at larger locations where more equipment is being sold.

A crowd fills one of the three auction rings operating during a Ritchie Bros. auction near Edmonton in 2016. More than 11,000 bidders from every Canadian province, 48 states and 50 countries registered for the auction. As many as 5,000 are estimated to have attended in person, with the rest watching online. (Terry Reith/CBC)

Melissa Barcellos, manager of economic development for the City of Prince George, said she was "very disappointed" by the news.

"While they don't have a large staff, Ritchie Bros. have been attracting people to attend their events from around the region, the province and even sometimes from out-of-country. That impacts hotels, restaurants, spending within the city."

She also said the auctions offered an opportunity to showcase the city as a business destination, and was a way for local businesses to affordably purchase equipment without having to travel.

In a Facebook post, Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris said, "This is a blow to Prince George as well as the North."

In 2016, the company set a series of Canadian sales records as a slump in the oil and gas industry in northern Alberta and B.C. led to massive equipment sell-offs, including an entire 1,200-person work camp.

In 2016, an entire work camp, complete with gym, medical facilities and living space was auctioned off by Ritchie Bros. (Ritchie Bros.)

A company spokesperson said around 20 employees will be affected by the closures of small locations which, in addition to Prince George, include sites in  Albuquerque, N.M., Manchester, N.H., Raleigh-Durham, N.C. and St. Louis, Mo. and that "where possible" affected employees will be offered jobs elsewhere.

The auctions sites closest to Prince George are Grande Prairie and Edmonton, Alta., as well as Chilliwack, B.C.

The closures will be finalized Dec. 31, and an auction in Prince George is scheduled for Nov. 24.

Ritchie Bros. was founded in Kelowna in 1958 and is headquartered in Vancouver, according to its website. The Prince George branch opened in 1969, and the current facility was opened in 2003.

Today, it has locations throughout Canada, the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.