‘We’re just trying to keep the lights on’: Alberta company gets creative in attempt to survive oil price slump

Click to play video: 'Alberta business switches gears as work dries up'
Alberta business switches gears as work dries up
WATCH ABOVE: It’s a question many Alberta entrepreneurs in the oil and gas industry are asking: What do you do when work dries up? Vinesh Pratap visited a company just outside Edmonton that’s turned to building a new product to keep the lights on – Jun 24, 2016

Two years after the price of oil began its tumultuous tumble, sending Alberta’s economy into a tailspin, companies who support the oilpatch industries are doing their best to meet the challenge before them: diversify or die.

That’s the test currently facing a family-run, oil equipment manufacturing shop southwest of Edmonton, in Calmar.

“We had a really good crew. We were putting out a quality product,” Paul Frith, founder and general manager of Newport Manufacturing and Design, said. “That’s the worst feeling in the world.”

Newport began in 2005 when Frith, who had been contracting for a number of welding firms, approached his brother and stepfather about getting involved to help grow the business.

Frith’s stepfather bought a building and some land and he and his brother rented it from him, at a “family discount.”

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Newport quickly grew to employ 25 people but now, only four people remain on payroll, including Frith.

READ MORE: Alberta’s unemployment rate hits levels not seen since 1990s

“When we did the expansion we were flat out,” he said. “We could have doubled in size and still would have been turning away work.

“We were buzzing, it looked like a beehive in here. We had 25 guys and it was welding lights, welding sparks, grinding sparks shooting from every direction you could look.”

Now, Newport has come up with a niche service it’s hoping will attract an entirely different clientele: producing custom fire pits and wood-burning stoves. Frith says he came up with the idea just two months ago.

“I was sitting around the campfire at my cousin’s place and I was complaining about how his fire pit was cheaply built.”

He says through social media and word of mouth, private sales have been steady but it’s too early to say if the his plan to diversify will be enough to keep the business afloat until the price of oil and gas recovers.

READ MORE: Oil price crash reaches 2nd anniversary: ‘this too will pass’ says Calgary lawyer

“We’re not making very much money on them,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep the lights on.”

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Watch below: For some Alberta businesses, diversification isn’t really something they can pursue as they struggle during the economic downturn. The owner of a Calmar restaurant says he hasn’t turned a profit since taking over the eatery three months ago. Gord Steinke has more.

Click to play video: 'Calmar restaurant struggling during Alberta’s economic downturn'
Calmar restaurant struggling during Alberta’s economic downturn

-With files from Vinesh Pratap

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