As he took a few minutes to chat during a snow day, Ajay Mathew Punnapadam jokes that living through a P.E.I. winter never really entered his mind as he and his family began discussing the idea of leaving India back in 2015.
Their planned destination was New Zealand, but a last minute change of plans saw them depart for Canada instead. He admits the island nation would have been less of an adjustment in terms of climate, but has “absolutely no regrets” about coming to the island he now calls home.
Punnapadam had already made his presence felt in both the business and construction sectors in India by the time he and his family moved to P.E.I. from Bangalore. His background in commerce and marketing helped him climb the corporate ladder to become a regional manager.
He built a team that within three years became the sole AAA-certified company authorized to complete painting projects in the southern part of the country. All without having any background in the construction sector.
The owner of his office building was watching and after some persuasion convinced Punnapadam to supervise a building project. He was able to finish the project ahead of schedule without compromising quality, something he credits to his belief in teamwork and planning. He has been in the construction business ever since.
However, Punnapadam and his wife Supriya were convinced the future lay somewhere else for them and their children, Aashish, Mariya, and Ashwin, who range in age from 11 to 15. They wanted a quieter lifestyle than the city of more than eight million people could offer. The quieter pace of life was one of the major attractions when they arrived in P.E.I. in 2018 for an interview as part of the province’s Provincial Nominee Program. They completed the moved to P.E.I. the following June and Punnapadam was already in the process of establishing Confederation Construction and Interiors Inc.
“You do what you know,” he says. “Construction is basically the same everywhere. A hammer is a hammer.”
However, he quickly discovered some differences. The most prominent being the fact wood is a more common building material in Canada’s smallest province.
“In India, I was doing a lot of work in concrete,” Punnapadam says.
His first major project was building 12 one- and two-bedroom apartments for the Dr. John Gillis Lodge in Belfast. Located in a rural area of the island approximately 40 minutes east of Charlottetown, the lodge was having trouble attracting workers due to a lack of accommodations in the area. Punnapadam says the project took seven to eight months to complete.
It was a project he took to heart, as he too found it challenging to find accommodations when first arriving in the country. Doug MacKenzie, owner of the lodge, says having housing nearby has helped to both attract and retain new staff. Since the facility is staffed 24-hours-a-day, it also helps to have staff living nearby in the event of inclement weather.
“It’s certainly a project I’m proud of and I would like to do more such projects,” Punnapadam says. “It’s a win for everybody.”
Confederation Construction and Interiors now has a workforce of 40 to 50 people depending on the time of year. Punnapadam says his operations, like virtually everybody else in the P.E.I. industry, has faced major challenges due to COVID-19, especially in terms of supply and price.
“Materials are hard to get and they’re getting tougher,” he says. “You have to plan two or three months ahead. Lumber prices rose significantly early in the pandemic, but they are levelling off now. ”
Punnapadam bacame involved with the P.E.I. connectors program shortly after he arrived in the province. The program, sponsored by the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, offers support services to businesses owned and operated by immigrants. It also connects new islanders and new graduates to business and community leaders in order to grow professional networks and expand career opportunities on the island.
“I found the program especially important when I first arrived on P.E.I.,” Punnapadam says. “I was from the other side of the world and didn’t know anybody. The contacts and networking I have been able to do through the chamber and P.E.I. Connectors has really helped me get established in the community and I really found the seminars useful.”
Punnapadam combines his daily walk with picking up liter as a way to help improve his community. He keeps a special eye out for nails and other sharp objects that could puncture tires. He has picked up as many as 50 to 60 nails some days while walking in the suburban Charlottetown community.
“At the end of the day, it’s a peaceful life here and we’re happy on this beautiful island,” Punnapadam says.