Flying red-hot sparks and humming cranes at Waiward Industrial’s 216,000-square-foot steel fabrication shop in Edmonton signal there’s no shortage of orders.
EDMONTON – The largest supplier of steel for oilsands projects five years ago is loaded with work thanks to Alberta’s continued petrochemical sector development, particularly the construction of Inter Pipeline’s $3.5-billion Heartland Petrochemical Complex.
The project is keeping welders at Waiward bustling in the middle of a slump that’s seen the price of Western Canada Select oil drop by 48 per cent in five years since the beginning of 2014.
Calgary-based Inter Pipeline was a recipient during the first round of the Alberta government’s $1-billion incentive program that provides future royalty credits toward petrochemical projects.
Started under the NDP government, the idea was to help diversify Alberta’s economy. According to a recent report on industry in the Heartland region from Ernst & Young LLP, more than $40 billion in investments have been attracted to the area, contributing about $2 billion in local spending between 2017 to 2020.
In 2018, Inter Pipeline became Waiward’s biggest customer “by a long shot,” said CEO Andy Brooks.
Acquired in 2015 by private Canadian equity firm Hillcore Group, Waiward was already in the midst of securing 10,000 tons of steel to supply the Heartland project by the time Brooks was newly hired in January 2018. By March of that year, Waiward’s main facility began work fabricating structural steel for the project.
Some of Waiward’s orders are going to the oilsands and out-of-province mining and energy production projects, but it’s the Inter Pipeline deal that has almost single-handedly turned the company’s fortunes around.
“Without that job, we’d be in big, big trouble,” said one foreman, Robi Dosanj. “It’s a hard, hard economy. When we’re busy, we’re busy as hell. But it’s a fight to get a job.”
There have been times when 70 per cent of the company’s staff, which includes about 250 fitters and fabricators in the shop and 500 total employees, were devoted to what Brooks calls the “anchor project.”
“They’ve changed the game. The timing for Waiward was phenomenal. Without this, I’d be down in Calgary talking to the bank on how to support us.”
Brooks is emphatic about the role of Inter Pipeline.
“It’s not just filing a gap. It’s above and beyond filling the gap. They provided hope in a time of desperation –- across the industry, not just with us,” he said
Waiward is one of more than 150 Alberta-based businesses hired to date for the Inter Pipeline project, benefitting from a strategy that puts locals first as much as possible. In some cases, the company has had to go overseas for particular equipment or specialized engineering, but it is spending 70 per cent of the project’s budget in Alberta, according to a spokesman.