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It all started about 10 years ago when Jordan Boesch decided to help his father with shift scheduling at the Quiznos restaurant the latter operates in Regina. It was a messy situation.
“I watched him do scheduling at the back of Quiznos using an Excel printout, and he’d actually assemble a lot of the pieces using sticky notes,’’ recalls Boesch, who’s 29 and the CEO of 7shifts, a popular restaurant scheduling software. “Staff would phone to say they can’t work Friday, for instance, because they had school or a dance class or soccer. And he’d have to deal with all these shift trades.’’
It all started about 10 years ago when Jordan Boesch decided to help his father with shift scheduling at the Quiznos restaurant the latter operates in Regina. It was a messy situation.
“I watched him do scheduling at the back of Quiznos using an Excel printout, and he’d actually assemble a lot of the pieces using sticky notes,’’ recalls Boesch, who’s 29 and the CEO of 7shifts, a popular restaurant scheduling software. “Staff would phone to say they can’t work Friday, for instance, because they had school or a dance class or soccer. And he’d have to deal with all these shift trades.’’
Boesch says the solution he came up with was simple. But his explanation reveals as much about his budding entrepreneurial spirit as his problem solving ability.
“So I taught myself how to program,’’ he begins, “and I built something that allowed him to upload the Excel document to a website so staff could log in and download it. It eliminated the phone calls. That was the starting point.’’
Today, that simple solution has evolved into 7shifts, a restaurant-specific scheduling tool used by about 2,300 restaurants, 85 per cent of them in the United States, 5 per cent in Canada and the remainder scattered around the world in places as far flung as Kyrgyzstan. And there’s no slowdown in sight. A year ago, Boesch’s Saskatoon-based company had three employees. Today there are 17 and the career page on 7shifts website is advertising openings for four more “smart, eager and passionate’’ people. In the one-year period ending in January 2016, 7shifts experienced a 300-per-cent increase in sales.
In a voice that’s confident yet matter of fact, Boesch says something that’s surely never before been uttered in Saskatchewan. “We’ve got a great opportunity here to conquer the restaurant market.’’ Yes, he’s talking about the world restaurant market. And his angel investors in Silicon Valley and big league point-of-sale partners elsewhere in the U.S. clearly believe his company has a shot at it.
What 7shifts does so well is soothe “pain points’’ for restaurant managers. For example, employees can trade shifts using a mobile app that notifies the manager after the swap has occurred. “It’s all automated through the phone now,’’ says Boesch. “There’s less talking and less time involved; you can do it on the go.’’ 7shifts also can be used to help a manager determine when to end an employee’s shift when business tails off—an employee leaving early under such circumstances is a common practice in the industry. The program also includes a logbook that allows a manager finishing a shift to update the next manager on what’s been going on in the restaurant.
Boesch says there’s only one way to learn about all the various pain points experienced by restaurant managers.
“You have to spend a lot of time with them. You can’t just go in there blind. You have to be armed with the information you need to build out something that’s going to solve a problem.’’ That approach appears to be working very well. “Managers report saving 80 per cent of their time using 7shifts. If they used to spend five hours on scheduling, they’re doing it in one hour using 7shifts.’’
7shifts received angel investment money arising from its participation in an accelerator program in Silicon Valley as well as venture capital from other investors in California and Toronto. “These people have a lot of expertise in tech companies, in helping them scale, helping them with advice. And they have a vast network of people who are really smart and who’ve done this before.’’
Boesch’s Silicon Valley investors wanted him to relocate 7shifts to their neighbourhood. It wasn’t that they wanted to micromanager their investment, he says. They just wanted Boesch and his staff to be in an ecosystem where there’s an abundance of help any time it’s needed. “It’s more that they want you to be part of this exclusive party that’s happening. It’s not necessarily the case that they are always at this party, but their friends are at the party. And all their friends are really smart and they’re going to talk to you.’’
But Boesch told the Californians he didn’t want to leave Saskatchewan. “We want to build our company here,’’ he says, adding world-class expertise is never more than a Skype call away.
“I love Saskatchewan. I think there’s great opportunity here. I think we can build our own ecosystem here and succeed here.’’
Winning the Diversity Leadership Award at the Yorkton Chamber of Commerce 2016 Celebrate Success Business Awards in April is the latest recognition in a string of awards that TA Foods Ltd. has earned during a period of intense growth.
The Yorkton-based food processor was the recipient of the Growth & Expansion Award at the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce 2015 ABEX awards last October. The company had also been named finalist in the Exports and Innovation categories.
TA Foods specializes in supplying cleaned flaxseed, milled flax and flax oil to bulk and retail markets throughout Canada, the US, Mexico, and Asia and is now offering copackaging/production services to companies requiring custom oil pressing, bottling, and packaging.
The Growth & Expansion award was “an awesome honour,” says Mike Popowich, co-owner of the family operated business. “It’s amazing how much an award like that helps the company gain recognition in the international community.
“A lot of our customers don’t get the opportunity to meet us face-to-face or see our facility, so awards like that really help to legitimize your company in the international community.”
The award recognized the work that TA Foods had accomplished as a result of facility upgrades completed three years ago, when the company added a cleaning plant and bottling line, Popowich says.
“The upgrades were geared to increasing capacity and increasing production and sales. We went from about five employees to 30 employees now—about 26 at the time we won the award.”
“With the addition of our high capacity crushing area, we were able to do a lot more flax oil per day than we were able to do before, and with the addition of a bottling line being able to offer a private label to customers,” he adds.
“We do all of our own label design and bag design here. We can do it quickly and easily for anybody who wants to start marketing their own brand of milled flax or whole flax or flax oil.”
One particular innovation that Popowich is proud to point out is the company’s success in improving the “smoke point”—the temperature at which bluish smoke starts to form, indicating the destruction of beneficial nutrients and the creation of harmful free radicals—for its flax oils. Flax oils have a reputation for easily oxidizing, he says, resulting in a low smoke point, a little over 100 degrees Celsius.
“But with the flax oil that we produce here it's between 180 and 200 degrees Celsius, similar to an olive oil. So we can recommend our flax oils for baking and for stir frying."
Innovation has always been a driving force behind the Popowich family. In the 1980s, Mike’s parents, Terry and Ann, established a seed-cleaning plant on the family farm south of Orcadia, purchasing grain from local farmers, then distributing the cleaned grain to processors and end users. By the late 1980s, the family opened Popowich Milling, with its main facility just beyond the northern outskirts of Yorkton. e family sold Popowich Milling to Grain Millers in 2002.
In 2003, recognizing the vast potential for value-added production of market-ready products for consumers, the family launched TA Foods Ltd.—the T and A standing for Terry and Ann. Starting from a single employee, they quickly grew to establish a headquarters and main production facility on Yorkton’s downtown edge, in a building that they purchased after having sold it to Grain Millers only a year previously. Mike Popowich and his wife Lana joined the family business as co-owners in 2013.
About 50 per cent of the company’s revenues come from its retail products, Popowich says. In addition,TA Foods supplies flax, milled flax and bulk oil as blends or ingredients used in familiar brands of granola and health foods.
“As a food product, it has been growing more and more with the health food industry. With high Omega-3s, Omega-6s and Omega-9s in the product, it’s very healthy.
“We do some custom packaging and custom crushing for other companies in Saskatchewan, too, for camelina oils, some hemp oils and various products like that. We try to utilize this facility as much as we can.”
Worldwide, interest in flax products has been growing steadily for the last decade, Popowich says. The company exports mainly to China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Ireland, Mexico and the US.
"Most of our future focus for the business is on the retail side,” he says, noting that the retail market is primarily overseas, whereas the US market tends toward bulk ingredients.
Although TA Foods markets under its own brand, familiar to grocery shoppers throughout Canada, Popowich says the company also bottles and packages more than 30 private labels currently.
The company purchases almost all of its conventional flax from Saskatchewan farmers, many of them in the Yorkton region. For its organic flaxseed, the company looks a little wider, Popowich says, buying from producers in Alberta and Manitoba, as well.
Popowich notes that TA Foods meets the rigorous standards of Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)—Safe Quality Foods Program (SQF), Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), Pro-Cert Organic, Non-GMO Project, Kosher and Gluten Free certifications.
“Canada is the world’s largest grower and export of flax in the world,” Popowich says.
“If you include some of the northern flaxproducing US states—North Dakota and Montana—over 50 per cent of the world’s flax is grown within 1000 miles of here.”
Saskatchewan has one of the fastest growing populations in Canada. The province has the food, fuel and fertilizer that the world needs, and its abundant natural resources place it at an advantage in various economic climates, helping it ride out global economic cycles.
Manufacturing is an important part of Saskatchewan’s economy. The sector accounts for seven per cent of the province’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is currently experiencing one of the highest growth rates in the country. In the 10-year period from 2005 to 2015, Saskatchewan’s manufacturing shipments increased by 46 per cent.
Some of the industries that have experienced manufacturing increases recently are food, chemicals, wood products and machinery. In addition, precision agriculture, new mineral development and renewable energy are also driving opportunities for Saskatchewan manufacturers.
Annually, Saskatchewan exports more than a third of the world’s durum wheat, as well as pulses, oilseeds and products from a world-leading agri-value industry. The province also produces a fifth of the world’s uranium; 90 per cent of this is exported, while the remaining 10 per cent is used to fuel Canada’s nuclear reactors. As well, with 45 per cent of known global potash reserves, Saskatchewan has the largest potash industry in the world. Existing producers in the province have undertaken major expansions, while other mining companies are developing new operations in the province or have announced intentions to do so.
In addition to its high-quality agriculture and mineral products, Saskatchewan is Canada’s second-largest oil-producing province and the sixth largest in North America. It is home to a significant portion of the Bakken Formation, one of North America’s largest oil plays. The province also remains a leader in petroleum research, particularly in the areas of enhanced oil recovery and horizontal drilling, helping to get more oil out of the ground, sustainably.
These and more have contributed to Saskatchewan’s manufacturing success story. It is no surprise that between June 2015 and June 2016, manufacturing sales increased by 2.9 per cent to a value of $1.2 billion.
Saskatchewan is a leader in innovation, applied research, development and technology commercialization. The province is home to a research cluster that includes the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, universities, research institutions and its Innovation Place research parks with locations across the province. Increases in Saskatchewan’s resource sectors have created huge supply chain opportunities for manufacturers and service providers in the province. Saskatchewan also produces advanced engineering and manufacturing technologies for the aerospace, defence and precision agricultural markets and is forging ahead in clean-coal power generation, unmanned aerial vehicles and nuclear science.
Competitive Business Environment
Supporting Saskatchewan’s diversity of sectors is one of the most competitive business environments in North America. Major utilities, including power, are provided by the province, ensuring stability in these costs. Saskatchewan also has a very competitive tax structure, including: corporate income tax as low as 10 per cent on manufacturing and processing profits; manufacturing and processing exporter hiring tax incentives; a five per cent refundable investment tax credit on manufacturing and processing equipment; provincial tax exemptions for eligible machinery, equipment and materials used during the manufacturing process; no corporate capital tax; no payroll tax; and so much more.
The province’s central location gives it easy access to domestic and offshore markets, which can be reached through its excellent road network and rail transportation services. A steel mill is also located in the province, giving local manufacturers direct access to steel supply for their products. All these advantages and incentives make the province a prime choice to locate business headquarters. In addition, Saskatchewan’s abundant resources and commitment to growth continue to make it an excellent place to live, raise a family and operate a business.
Space is already in short supply at software firm iQmetrix’s new office in downtown Regina.
A leading provider of software for retail business in North America, the company recently moved to bigger and better digs after enjoying several years of success following its launch in Regina in 1999.
But now the company is growing so quickly it might have to find even more space.
“We’re already facing a bit of a crunch in our new offices because the hiring pace has been so high,” says Scott McGillivray, chief strategy officer at iQmetrix .
With tens of thousands of customers, and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, iQmetrix is one of the largest tech companies in Saskatchewan.
McGillivray attributes its success to the province’s talent pool and work ethic.
“So many companies say it’s all about their people, and I have to say that is why iQmetrix has been successful,” he says.
“We have a great staff and our core purpose at iQmetrix has been about creating great experiences, and we’ve been able to find a way to attract smart, humble people who have the capacity to work hard.”
That’s really the Saskatchewan hallmark, he adds.
While the province is renowned for agriculture, mining and energy production, it also has deep pool of high-tech workers.
And iQmetrix wouldn’t be the success it is today without those skilled people, McGillivray says.
“There are only a few software companies based in Regina, so for those people who have engineering or computer science degrees, we’re a highly desirable place to work if you want to build products,” he says.
Moreover, many post-secondary graduates receive excellent training and are ready to hit the ground running when hired, he says.
“Saskatchewan just has such a great education system,” McGillivray says. “We get high-quality grads, for example, coming out of the University of Regina that we are always very eager to hire.”
But iQmetrix also creates an atmosphere where talented employees can thrive.
“Specifically, the people we look for are those who think ‘we’ as opposed to just ‘me,’ ” McGillivray says.
“We put a lot of time and effort into ensuring we’re building an effective culture here. We want our people to have a great place to work, with interesting and challenging tasks.”
It’s been a very good formula for growth. The company is not just a Saskatchewan tech success story. It’s a Canadian one.
“Today we’re operating across Canada and the U.S. with a presence in Australia and Mexico,” McGillivray says. “Basically, you can go into any mall in North America and find a retailer using our software.”
With more than 400 employees — 180 of which are based in Regina — and offices in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Charlotte, North Carolina and Australia, the company has come a long way since it was founded in 1999 by Kelly Kazakoff and Greg and Christopher Krywulak.
And the growth has been organic.
“We’ve grown everything through cash flow,” McGillivray says, adding that’s relatively unique in the tech industry, “and the employees are shareholders.
“It’s quite unusual to be profitable, have no external investors and to have been able to avoid taking on debt.”
In part, the business atmosphere in the province has helped foster iQmetrix’s prudent growth.
“The environment here makes it easy to get a business started, and it is easy to grow your business,” he says. “The tax structure in the province is also one that is favourable to business.”
When you combine a business-friendly climate with a great idea and good workers, you have a recipe for success, he says.
“There are no impediments to growing your business here,” he says.
“In so many other areas, whether its finance, account management, developers, there’s a solid pool of people to draw from.”
Two years ago, when Mike Costello needed spectral analysis to test a gear oil additive on a used automotive part for its effectiveness, there was only one enterprise capable of giving him results: the Canadian Light Source (CLS) in Saskatoon, a national research facility used by scientists from around the world in ground-breaking health, environmental, materials, and agricultural research.
Citing the CLS’s expertise in lubricant chemistry, Dr. Costello, technical lead of manual transmission fluids for chemical production giant BASF, explains why CLS’s specialty in the field of synchrotron science was exceptional and a perfect fit for analyzing the films deposited by gear oil additives on worn metal surfaces.
“It’s very specific to the element that you’re looking for and to the type of radiation that is needed to see that particular element,” Dr. Costello expounds from his office in Tarrytown, New York. “There are only a couple of synchrotrons in the world that do that, and CLS has previously tested metal parts with lubricant additive deposits, so they have a lot of expertise in looking for the right chemical species on the surface of metal parts. There isn’t any other synchrotron that’s actually ever done that. [At CLS] they’re already sort of pretrained."
Collaborating with the CLS “sped up the process 10 times” and “saved several years of effort compared to other labs with similar equipment,” says Dr. Costello. “As soon as I sent them the samples, they knew exactly what I needed, how to run the tests, and how to interpret the results. They just hit the ground running and it was fantastic.”
Dr. Costello’s story is not just unique to the chemical production industry. Since it began operations in 2005, the CLS has used a combination of synchrotron light and scientific expertise to benefit widely diverse sectors and disciplines, ranging from agriculture, mining and aerospace to energy storage and medicine.
“We touch on so many different industry sectors that it’s phenomenal where we actually have benefit,” notes Jeffrey Cutler, the Canadian Light Source’s chief industrial science officer.
He doesn’t mince words when expressing his organization’s global impact or how much it has raised the profile of its home province. “The CLS put Saskatchewan on the global scientific map.”
Employing 220 people and housed in a football-field-sized hangar-shaped headquarters in Saskatoon, the CLS has been responsible for a number of innovations since its 2005 opening, including a series of processes that creates molybdenum-99 (Mo-99).
“That’s the medical isotope you’d get at Chalk River or some of the other research reactors that has a huge relevance to medical imaging applications,” Dr. Cutler explains. “We’ve actually spun it off as a company called Canadian Isotope Innovations and they’re looking to stream Mo-99 into the marketplace as a product.”
The most recent economic impact studies conducted between 2009 and 2011 reveal that the CLS adds $45-million yearly to Canada’s GDP.
The only research facility of its kind in Canada, running 24 hours, six days a week, the CLS is a particle accelerator using 16 synchrotron light experimental stations, or beamlines, which Dr. Cutler describes as “the light at the bottom of a microscope.”
“Synchrotron light is really a probe, or a source of light, to look at how things are put together,” explains Dr. Cutler, who conducted his first synchrotron experiments in 1986. “It’s a very bright source of light, and the brighter the light you have, the smaller the things you can look at. You can push down detection limits, so you can look at things in smaller quantities, and this very bright light can be used to zero right in and help understand the fundamentals of the material or the system – the macroscopic property – or how they behave.
“You can apply this to myriad industry sectors or research areas, using the same type of light but using different colours, different beam sizes, whatever the case may be.”
The synchrotron light is funneled through a tube. “It’s a pipe where you put an electron beam in or a charge-particle beam, and have them go through a series of magnets, so it’s an accelerator,” he says. “It’s a very small tube that goes through a series of magnets. At any time that beam of charged particles, or electrons – in this case, it goes through a magnet, [the particles are] prompted to change direction. When they change direction they give off the light the researchers want to use."
It’s a light source that academic as well as industrial researchers are lining up for, notes Dr. Cutler, who says the facility can’t keep up with demand. “At many levels, it’s an oversubscribed facility,” he concedes, adding that construction of six more beamlines is currently underway, with completion scheduled by 2018.
Partially funded by the Saskatchewan government and other stakeholders, such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the CLS is “picking areas of pre-eminence, areas where we can really deal with major issues in Canada – agriculture/food security, health, clean technologies, environment and also what we loosely call ‘advanced materials,’ ” says Dr. Cutler.
“We’re trying to keep Canada at the leading edge of innovation and really help Canadian companies and academics show that we’re creating technology, we’re exporting it and we’re creating new knowledge that has importance across the globe. The CLS has a role to play at a national and international level.”
Saskatoon may not be commonly associated with Silicon Valley, but that hasn't stopped local technology companies like Noodlecake Studios from making a global impact.
Co-founded by entrepreneurs Jordan Schidlowsky and Ty Haugen in 2011, Noodlecake – an online game developer and distributor – has seen a couple of its innovative multiplayer titles, Super Stickman Golf and Flappy Golf, enhance its world reputation to the point where developers are seeking it out to release and market its games.
The studio, which has introduced more than 95 mobile gaming apps for Apple and Android products over the years, is front and centre in an industry sector that Statista.com – an online statistics portal headquartered in Hamburg, Germany – predicts will rake in $44.2-billion (U.S.) globally in 2018.
“Mobile is our bread and butter,” acknowledges Mr. Schidlowsky, Noodlecake's CEO, adding that his company offers both free and purchasable downloads. “Our total downloads currently number 180 million.”
With 16 employees, Noodlecake is just one of many small businesses – those whose payrolls number between 1 and 99 employees – significantly contributing to Saskatchewan's economy.
According to December 2015 figures compiled by the Business Register at Statistics Canada, the number of small businesses in Saskatchewan – 40,453 – account for over 98 per cent of all of the 41,185 incorporated ventures in the province.
“Small businesses have always formed the backbone of the Saskatchewan economy,” notes Alex Fallon, president and CEO of Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority (SREDA). Funded by the City of Saskatoon, Regional members and industry, one of the roles of the organization is to entice business to the Saskatoon Region.
The increase in small business traffic has been steady, with 2,189 new ventures establishing themselves in Saskatchewan since 2012.
“With entrepreneurship on the rise and a new generation of Saskatchewan entrepreneurs launching new companies, there is no doubt small businesses will continue to have a significant impact on the local economy,” says Mr. Fallon.
SREDA has played an integral role in attracting business to the Saskatoon Region, helping local entrepreneurs and attracting $12-million in investments in 2015 alone.
“Our role is to help grow the local economy by providing programs and services in the areas of business attraction, retention and expansion; entrepreneurship support; regional planning; economic forecasting and analysis; and marketing the Saskatoon Region,” explains Mr. Fallon.
Citing Saskatchewan’s key sectors – energy resources, mining, agriculture, manufacturing, biotech and sciences – Mr. Fallon acknowledges that these areas are carrots dangled in conversations with prospective suitors.
“One of the key advantages for businesses in Saskatchewan is the potential for long-term growth,” he says.
Mr. Fallon sees “a real growth potential” in the Saskatoon Region, given its proximity to a wealth of natural resources and the “very competitive cost” of doing business in the region, alongside the advantages of local infrastructure, transportation facilities and a skilled workforce. It also is home to one of the world’s top agricultural biotechnology research clusters.
“The Saskatoon Region is a place where companies can innovate, grow and expand their business,” he says. “There are many successful technology companies here that add value to the local economy by creating jobs, wealth and knowledge, and positioning us as a global competitor.”
Also noteworthy is how immigrant and Aboriginal entrepreneurs have been making an impact. According to Mr. Fallon, the former trend of people leaving Saskatchewan has reversed, with the province now welcoming an average of 14,000 newcomers yearly. “
And we’ve noticed an increase in the number of Aboriginal entrepreneurs,” he says, “especially young entrepreneurs.”
SREDA attracts small businesses by supporting their analysis of the local market and connecting them to local partners and experts. Locally, he adds, they manage the City of Saskatoon’s Business Development Incentives Policy and actively seek out businesses that can benefit from the tax abatement incentives under this policy.
“Some companies are large enough to do it on their own, but those companies that need some assistance, more often than not, will have a conversation with us and we will help them as best we can.”
While SREDA works on attracting businesses to the Saskatoon Region, some have established themselves without any convincing.
For example, Noodlecake's Jordan Schidlowsky says he and Ty Haugen base their studio in Saskatoon for a very simple reason: it’s home.
“We could have done it anywhere,” he says. “But I'm from Saskatoon. That's the reason why we're here.”
A University of Saskatchewan computer science grad, Mr. Schidlowsky says Skype meetings remedy the need to travel. Noodlecake's unusual location also appeals to small teams of developers and game studios around the world.
“Being in Saskatoon helps us because the kind of studios we want to work with are smaller indie studios,” Mr. Schidlowsky explains. “When we talk to other developers, a constant common theme is that they hate working with big companies.”
“We're not in the Valley,” he adds. “We're all pretty young and casual when we do business, so I think that actually helps our relationships with some of these smaller studios.”
Like many successful small business owners, Rachel Mielke was, for a time, too busy to realize just how successful her upstart jewellery enterprise had become.
But when Queen Elizabeth II wears a brooch you’ve made not once, but four times, it’s hard not to realize that your business has hit the big time.
“The day we found out the Queen had worn the custom brooch we designed for her was definitely one of those life-changing moments where you realize the company will never be the same,” says Mielke, 37, founder and chief executive officer of Hillberg & Berk, which is appropriately based in the Queen City itself, Regina.
“It really gave me an opportunity to reflect on how far we’d come.”
And certainly Hillberg & Berk — a designer, manufacturer, retailer and wholesaler of luxury jewellery — has come a long way since Mielke started making and selling pieces largely as a hobby after graduating almost a decade ago with a business and administration degree from the University of Regina.
Today, her business sells jewellery across Canada, in the United States and elsewhere. Her designs have been worn by celebrities and dignitaries such as Michelle Obama, the Queen, Celine Dion and Carrie Underwood. She now employs about 150 people, most of whom are based in Regina.
By those measures alone, Hillberg & Berk may have outgrown being a ‘small business.’ And its story — while unique in many ways — is by no means uncommon in the province. The little enterprise growing into a big deal is a familiar tale in Saskatchewan.
“It really is an environment where anything is possible, and there are people with an excellent work ethic, whether that was fostered by growing up on the farm or whatever the case may be,” says John Hopkins, chief executive officer of the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce.
“That’s resulted in a lot of success with really small companies growing into global players.”
While Saskatchewan is home to many global giants in sectors from agriculture to mining, small business has and continues to be a major driver of the economy. Small businesses account for one-third of Saskatchewan’s gross domestic product, employ more than 30 per cent of the province’s workers and pay more than $6 billion in wages.
And small businesses make up the majority of enterprises in the province. Of the close to 150,000 businesses in Saskatchewan, 98 per cent have fewer than 50 employees, says a 2015 report from Government of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of the Economy.
In part, the government has created an ideal environment for small companies to thrive and make these important economic contributions, says Hopkins.
“The tax environment is quite competitive with the rest of the country, and that is an important factor for any small business,” he says.
But it’s more than just tax rates. The province has implemented a host of tax incentives aimed at helping grow Saskatchewan businesses across many sectors.
And small businesses often benefit most because the tax savings tend to have a much bigger effect on their bottom line. For example, the Manufacturing and Processing Exporter Tax Incentive provides non-refundable tax credits worth $3,000 per employee to eligible businesses that expand their number of employees.
It’s incentives like these that have helped make life easier for fast-growing companies such as Hillberg & Berk.
“The government here really gets behind small business and it understands the challenges we face,” Mielke says, adding her firm used the exporter tax incentive last year.
“We would have expanded aggressively in the last couple of years regardless, but it definitely helps out because cash flow is the lifeline of any small business, and if you can have benefits like that from being in Saskatchewan, it just helps the business grow.”
Besides a beneficial tax regime, the province also has an infrastructure system that small businesses can easily tap into, from broad access to post-secondary institutions producing highly skilled workers to roads and bridges undergoing extensive renewal and expansion.
Beyond that, Saskatchewan intrinsically has advantages few other jurisdictions have, Hopkins adds.
“The most important aspect is Saskatchewan has what the world needs: food, fuel and fertilizer,” he says. “Those three key resources are going to be important drivers of the economy as we move ahead.”
And thanks to the achievements of companies such as Hillberg and Berk, another ‘F’ can be added to that list — fashion.
“Since I’ve started there has been a whole culture of fashion that has evolved in the province,” Mielke says.
It all boils down to the down-home Saskatchewan attitude that everyone’s in it together, she says.
“Everyone wants each other to succeed and we all understand that in the long run that benefits the province as a whole.”
Saskatchewan may be known for wheat and canola, but another crop has become a quiet international bestseller. Homegrown pulses – lentils, peas, chickpeas, beans and faba beans –are supplying traditional and growing markets, including the Middle East and North Africa, Southeast Asia, India, and Latin America. The pulses are widely used in protein-rich, high-fibre dishes, ranging from hummus to soups.
“We’re no longer just the bread basket of the world,” says Murad Al-Katib, president and CEO of AGT Food and Ingredients in Regina. “We’re now a major part of the global protein highway.”
The province, which accounts for more than 40 per cent of Canada’s farmland, produces 90 per cent of the country’s pulses for export and 35 per cent of the global pulse trade.
“Since 2012 we’ve more than doubled acreage devoted to lentils in Saskatchewan,” says Carl Potts, executive director of the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers association. “In 2015, we exported $2.5-billion worth of lentils, which puts it on par with wheat and canola exports.”
For its part, AGT is the largest valued-added processor of pulses in the world, with 2015 revenues of $1.7-billion, more than 2,200 employees and 41 processing plants on five continents.
“Value added” or “agri-value” traditionally refers to the processing of raw materials into ingredients and finished foods, for example, when canola becomes canola oil.
At AGT’s Regina value-added processing facility, each red lentil kernel is skinned, split in half, polished with water or oil, and then packaged for international export. Agri-food exports have become a cornerstone of Saskatchewan’s trade-based economy, accounting for about one-third of its total exports.
While crop surpluses and competition originally forced farmers to look beyond wheat and expand to oil seeds, these crops are hard on soil over time, depleting it of nitrogen and creating potential disease and quality issues down the road. In some cases, producers may even leave a field unplanted until the summer following (“summerfallow”) just to keep the field’s nutrients intact. Pulses, however, are a lucrative addition to the crop rotation – they take less land and water to grow and are environmentally sustainable.
Pulses take nitrogen from the air, says Potts, thereby reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer needed. Pulses also reduce the amount of nitrogen needed to be added to the soils in the crop grown on the same field the following year.
“Pulses also improve soil health and add another crop to farmers’ rotations,” he explains, “breaking disease cycles and things like that.”
In turning Saskatchewan into a world pulse power, farmers, processors and their grower associations have worked hand-in-hand with the provincial government.
Not only have government tax and incentive programs – and cutting of red tape – helped the initiative, explains Potts, its trade missions have done much to open markets worldwide for local pulse growers.
Government-supported crop and production research has helped to increase productivity as well, he adds, working with research partners, such as the University of Saskatchewan, to create pulse varieties that grow well in dry, fertile soil and cold environments.
The diversification of crops has also had other benefits.
“We’re a multi-dimensional commodity-based economy,” explains Mr. Al-Katib. “When you have challenges in a commodity cycle – as we have with the oil and gas sector – agri-value diversifies this economy and gives us a very strong performer to balance it.”
With the world population rising, especially in developing countries, the demand for Saskatchewan pulses is expected to keep rising, says Potts, underscoring the challenge to find innovative ways to meet the demand, as well as educating North American consumers about the health benefits of vegetable proteins.
A back door into non-traditional markets would be to use pulses as ingredients for existing foods. For example, even though China does not have a history of eating pulses, it has become Canada’s second largest market for yellow peas because the starch from the peas is extracted to make noodles.
“The world population is supposed to grow to nine billion by 2050,” says Potts. “The demand for plant-based protein is only going to increase.”
Saskatchewan is renowned as Canada’s breadbasket province. With more than 40 per cent of the country’s arable land, it’s a well-earned reputation.
Yet the province also has the right ingredients to become a global leader in the burgeoning industry of value-added agri-business, says Chandra Mark, manager of agri-value and life sciences with the Government of Saskatchewan.
“Saskatchewan has a very strong business environment in general combined with a strong agricultural sector,” says Mark, who helps agri-businesses navigate the global marketplace and develop and expand their footprints.
“It also has strong government support while being one of the few provinces in the agri-value industry where you can develop your own variety of seed and grow and manufacture it into a final product.”
It’s an ideal mix — one that is generating almost $5 billion in economic activity alone.
While this figure represents only a small portion of the province’s diversified economy, the focus for government and industry is to grow the value-added agri-business sector into one of the largest in Canada, if not the world.
“It’s extremely important, especially in terms of economic development, because we want to keep the value at home instead of shipping raw commodities to other parts of the world for someone else to add value and capture the added profits,” Mark says.
Some of the world’s largest agricultural firms have taken note of the province’s potential. Among them is Cargill.
A multinational company based in the United States, Cargill employs more than 450 people across six different agri-business sectors at 28 locations in Saskatchewan.
Headquartered in Minnesota, the firm’s activities in Saskatchewan include grain handling, canola processing, specialty seed breeding, malting and animal nutrition.
“Saskatchewan is, and will continue to be, an important arm of business for Cargill,” says Chantelle Donahue, vice-president with the firm.
Overall, 26 per cent of the company’s Canadian investment has come to Saskatchewan. The province has received more than $300 million in capital investment from Cargill over the past five years.
“These investments demonstrate the company’s confidence in the continued growth and competitiveness of the agriculture industry in Saskatchewan,” says Donahue.
A state-of-the-art canola processing plant in Clavet and the expansion of a specialty seed research facility in Aberdeen are just two of the significant investments Cargill recently made in the prairie province.
In part it’s Saskatchewan’s business-friendly climate that has made it attractive to investment by firms such as Cargill. The government is continually streamlining services for agri-business, reducing red tape while providing significant incentives for investment through a number of tax credit and joint funding programs.
The Manufacturing and Processing Exporter Tax Incentive , for example, provides non-refundable tax credits to eligible corporations adding full-time jobs in the province. Each new full-time employee added results in a tax credit of $3,000 for each year between 2015 and 2019.
Other initiatives include the Market Development Program that helps companies connect with new customers in the global marketplace. The Saskatchewan Agri-Value Initiative assists in the development of new products while the Saskatchewan Lean Improvements in Manufacturing (SLIM) program helps firms improve efficiency in manufacturing processes.
Unlike the Manufacturing and Processing Exporter Tax Incentive, Mark says SAVI and the other two initiatives assist firms by providing funding for up to 50 per cent of the cost of new investments.
The incentives are helpful — even to large firms such as Cargill, Donahue says.
“Benefits from these programs were considered early on by Cargill in the project evaluation phase of our commitment process, having the effect of improving the projected financial measures of those projects,” Donahue says.
In turn, the presence of large firms helps reinforce confidence in the province’s industry, Mark says.
“Cargill is very important to Saskatchewan because a company of that size could operate anywhere in the world.”
Besides incentive programs, the government offers additional assistance to businesses, including smaller, homegrown companies. As an example, Mark cites a recent visit to China to build relationships with commodity producers and value-added manufacturers.
“There is a large pea processing company in China that imports the majority of its peas from Saskatchewan to make pea protein there and then exports it back to North America,” she says.
“We’re trying to get that company to invest in Saskatchewan so it processes the peas it buys here in the province before selling them to the North American market.”
With a reputation for responsible governance, a highly skilled talent pool, strong incentive programs and ample raw resources, the province certainly makes a strong argument for investment in its growing value-added agri-business sector, Mark says.
“Saskatchewan certainly has all the ingredients to become a global leader in the agri-value business.”
When Quality Assured Manufacturing founders Rod Culbert and Darren Martin decided their growing company needed a new manufacturing facility, they didn’t follow conventional wisdom. Instead, they set off with step counters and stopwatches, painstakingly pacing off distances and timing processes in the vacant lot that would soon become the company’s new home. They wanted their workflow to reflect the exacting quality of the product they produced.
“I don’t know how many nights we were out here with stopwatches and step counters,” says Culbert, the company’s CEO and Director of Marketing.
“We tried to take everything into account. Where are we going to place the parts bins? How far away is the lunchroom from the work area? We spent a lot of time planning, making sure that work flow and efficiency was at the forefront for the new facility design. In my experience that’s a large part of dividing you from your competitors. We made up about a 75 per cent efficiency rate compared to the efficiency rate we experienced over there [at the previous, leased location], just because we were able to design the building the way we wanted.
“It has allowed us to really go after business that we did not go after before,” he adds.
Quality Assured manufactures ULC and API tanks and vessels for the gas and oil sector, as well as custom steel fabrication for the mining, waste management, and agricultural sectors.
“From the mining side, we’ve done everything from structural platforms and grating systems, to pulverizers, chutes and hoppers” says Culbert.
“On the gas and oil side, it’s typically horizontal and vertical ULC and API tanks, and a multitude of custom steel fabrication of various types supporting the gas and oil sector. Structural skids for compressor stations and water treatment within the industry is also a large part of what we do.”
In addition, the company has filled orders to meet the needs of waste management, power stations, construction, chemical processing, and pulp and paper industries.
“You name it, it’s been done!”
The new facility is open scarcely four years after Culbert and Martin first conceived their plan to launch Quality Assured Manufacturing. They’ve outgrown their first building, a leased space on the other side of Highway 6 from their new location. They started in the middle of the credit crunch, Culbert says, but with the help of Conexus Credit Union to secure an operating line of credit, the company was up and running before the end of 2010.
Culbert has lived steel day in and day out for about 25 years, with a strong background in marketing steel and specialty metals, sourcing suppliers, and fabrication. Martin, with about 17 years of industry expertise in production management and product improvement, had been working for one of Culbert’s clients when they first met. They got along well, and four years ago decided to start a new business together. Martin was a natural fit as COO and Director of Production.
“It was a fast start-up,” Culbert says. “We turned it around in about eight months, from the business plan to getting the money and getting a building.”
They doubled their sales and staff within the first two years, then nearly doubled their business again in year three. Now, rounding out year four, Culbert says they are about where they thought their sales would be by year eight.
“We are considerably ahead of schedule,” he says.
“Both Darren and I have been in the industry long enough that most of the people that we do business with, or have done business with to start the company, we've known very well for many years. That all helped to get us to where we are today,” Culbert says.
“We've never worried about a sale,” he adds. “We always focus on the relationship first. We look at what we can offer the customer, we develop a relationship and plan, and then the sales follow. That's what we've been fortunate enough to enjoy here.”
The company’s biggest markets are currently in Alberta and Saskatchewan, with sales extending into B.C. and Manitoba, and a plan to export into the United States.
They employ about 25 employees, mostly tradespeople such as welders. As the company settles into its new headquarters on Inland Drive, it plans to add technical and professional workers, including computer aided design specialists.
Saskatchewan’s boom makes it hard to find people, too, Culbert notes. But the company is careful to manage its growth and match its hiring accordingly. As a result, they recruit with an eye on retaining the best workers by augmenting competitive wages with a generous benefits plan.
“I call it ‘inventive management’,” says Culbert. “We try to make it an enjoyable place to come to work—where everyone here works with us, not for us”.
The Saskatchewan Geological Survey is at the forefront of using three-dimensional (3D) geological modeling technology to better understand Saskatchewan’s mineral and petroleum resources.
Generally, people are familiar with 3D technology. 3D movies have been around since the 1950s and have recently experienced a renaissance. Medical examinations like MRIs produce a 3D image of the inside of your body. You can even tour most of our planet’s surface in 3D with Google Earth.
Today, geoscientists use 3D modelling to help visualize what is beneath the Earth’s surface. These models help us to understand a variety of features such as the nature and context of mineral, water and petroleum resources. We can assess the potential for catastrophic events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and landslides. It also gives us a clearer picture of the environmental and geological evolution of the Earth since its formation 4.5 billion years ago.
Traditionally, geoscientists have used paper and computer software to create two-dimensional (2D) maps and cross-sections of the geology of the Earth’s interior. Utilizing drill hole analyses and geophysical data, these maps approximate the distribution of important geological objects buried underground. Advances in 3D technology, computing power and software now allow us to model subsurface geological objects and their relationships in 3D space. With this capability, geoscientists can assess geological information using an infinite number of viewing angles to make more informed decisions and conclusions about the rocks and formations they study.
Saskatchewan Geological Survey 3D Geological Modelling
The provincial government’s Saskatchewan Geological Survey (SGS) has been creating 3D geological models for almost 15 years. Our leadership in the field has attracted international attention and has been a main driver of various collaborations with other jurisdictions, including the Geological Survey of South Australia and the China Geological Survey. The SGS models allow non-geologists and geologists alike to easily access geological information. Industry commonly uses these models to provide regional-scale context within their property-scale models in order to better understand the context of the resource and how to explore for and extract it. Some of the SGS models include:
The SGS is also working towards a model of Saskatchewan’s vast oil and gas reservoirs in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin.
Saskatchewan is proud to lead in 3D geological modelling and to share our knowledge and experience with the world.
Saskatchewan has a wealth of resources that is the envy of nations – agriculture, potash, uranium and oil. And the world is watching Saskatchewan technological firsts in clean-coal power generation, animal vaccine research and nuclear science.
The province has a diversity of resources that has enabled it to weather global economic cycles. In fact, the province has seen record population, employment, investment and export growth.
Since 2007, Saskatchewan has reached an estimated $121 billion in new investments. Home-grown companies are fuelling much of this growth, including:
Companies from all over the world have chosen to invest or open offices here, such as:
As the province continues to grow, are you ready to add your mark to Saskatchewan?
By Martin Cash, originally published in Prairie Manufacturer Magazine
Photo Credit: JNE Welding
How Indigenous economic development is reshaping manufacturing on the Prairies
Jim Nowakowski knew he’d have to be patient when he began succession planning for his Saskatoon manufacturing firm, JNE Welding — a company he founded in 1980, which has grown to become one of the largest custom steel fabricators in the province.
But, for Nowakowski, that patience was tested as the bottom collapsed out of the price of oil and expansion in the potash industry dug in its heels.
The latter was particularly impactful. For years, JNE’s capacity and capabilities expanded alongside developments in the potash sector. Take, for example, the 38-foot high, 33-foot wide, and 186-foot long crystallizer it rolled down Highway 11 last year to K+S Potash Canada’s $4.1 billion Legacy mine north of Regina.
Those mega-projects, however, have largely wrapped up; and, with potash prices roughly one-third of what they were in 2008, new developments have not kept pace. Mining giant BHP Billiton recently announced it would be slashing $130 million from its budget for the build of its Jansen Lake underground facility, 140 kilometres east of Saskatoon.
Still, there were equity investors that were looking to exit, so Nowakowski needed to push through. He wanted a partner that would be committed to continued growth, to keeping operations in Saskatoon, and one that could add value to its business development activities.
“I know, for it to be successful, things like that don’t happen overnight,” says Nowakowski. “I started down that path four or five years ago. I had a couple of false starts where it wasn’t right, neither for me nor the groups we were considering, so we backed away.”
Nowakowski wasn’t just thinking about his own pocketbook. He had a responsibility to the 130-plus people working for him to get the “right fit.”
That fit turned out to be a partnership with two Saskatchewan First Nations groups.
This past January, English River First Nation and Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation announced they would be joining forces to acquire a 60 per cent majority ownership stake in JNE — a deal that took about a year to complete.
The agreement marked one of the first times that enterprising — and increasingly well-capitalized — Indigenous investment bodies targeted the Prairie manufacturing sector as a way to build wealth and stimulate economic development, shifting the role of First Nations and Métis Peoples from workforce participants to owners.
The decision for Nowakowski was far from passive.
There is a growing understanding by mainstream businesses in Western Canada that their future prosperity is heavily tied to their success engaging with Indigenous populations in the regions in which they work.
This concept was not a new one for JNE. The company had partnered in the past with Tron Construction & Mining — another business venture owned by English River’s economic development arm, Des Nedhe Developments.
Now, under the direction of its own new mandate, JNE has forged ahead.
“There has been a positive impact,” says Nowakowski. “I think we have already been considered for a few jobs that we otherwise would not have been.”
That’s because many Crown and resource development corporations have strong directives to engage First Nations and Métis Peoples.
German-owned K+S Potash Canada is one of those companies.
Terry Bird, lead advisor on First Nation & Métis initiatives with K+S, says it is a fundamental piece of the company’s operating principles, with specific policies on both procurement and employment. Gone are the days of having a community outreach policy just for show.
“It’s good for the organization,” explains Bird, “and it is the right thing to do.”
Gary Merasty, chief operating officer of Des Nedhe Developments, has an enviable network of contacts by virtue of his tenure as a two-time former grand chief of the Prince Albert Grand Council, seven years as a vice president with uranium producer, Cameco, and one term as a Liberal MP for the northern Saskatchewan riding of Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River. In addition to the people he knows, he also has the benefit of perspective.
“It’s not strictly a social issue,” Merasty says of the current wave of industry engagement with Indigenous Peoples. “If you step back and rise above 10,000 feet, you can see it is a growth issue. “Baby boomers are retiring, but you have a growing Aboriginal population. If there are ways and means of mobilizing that talent, they can rise to help fuel growth especially in the western provinces. Because [Indigenous Peoples] are such a huge part of the overall population compared to the east, our impact contributes to growth big time. That is part of the overall strategy.”
English River has built an impressive portfolio of business interests, including multi-location retail operations and a 134-acre urban reserve that nestles up to the City of Saskatoon. Top line revenue for the operations, including its 30 per cent stake in JNE, is up to roughly $200 million.
“Whether it is Indigenous or non-Indigenous, we are in it together,” exclaims Merasty. “These provincial economies in the west are integrated. By partnering like this, it allows the pool to go a little deeper and little wider for the future.”
That is why Nowakowski and companies like K+S are prepared to spend the time and effort to foster partnerships that work.
And it takes more than just policies, procedures, and a stated commitment. It takes steadfast dedication. According to Bird, that means a willingness “to go across the road and shake hands” with community leaders, to find out what they can offer and what they may need from you.
“There is a fair amount of engagement that we continue to do on an on going basis,” he says.
Meanwhile, Pasqua First Nation, just east of Regina, has been building an active portfolio of its own, generating $40 million in business revenue during 2015, including from the delivery of several training programs it administers on-reserve in partnership with Parkland College.
Pasqua Chief Todd Peigan also preaches the same message of hard work, and is adamant you can’t sit and wait for companies to come to you.
“Industry is very supportive, but you have to take the initiative to go and meet with them,” Peigan says. “Industry doesn’t necessarily make a point of meeting with the First Nations on business — it’s up to the First Nation to go out and get involved.”
In February 2016, Pasqua acquired Pro Metal Industries, a Regina custom metal fabricator, to become one of the few 100 per cent First Nations-owned manufacturers on the Prairies.
It’s part of an ambitious strategy started by Peigan when he became chief in 2011, to ultimately make the band self-sufficient. To attain that goal, Peigan reached out for help, bringing in 30-year industry veteran Bob Dumur to manage Pro Metal.
Dumur, who built his own company, Dumur Industries, into a 100-plusperson precision metals shop before selling it in 2013, knew Peigan and the Pasqua band before becoming involved.
“Pasqua’s ownership undoubtedly creates more opportunity for their people and Pro Metal,” adds Dumur. “It’s a win-win for us, and a win-win for our customers.”
In Winnipeg, Sean McCormick’s Métis roots are not far removed from the trap line where his aunt was born and where his grandfather made a living north of The Pas.
McCormick is the founder and CEO of Manitobah Mukluks, an internationally-acclaimed footwear company, whose modern, rubber-soled slippers and boots with distinctive Métis beadwork patterns are now sold in 50 countries. The company placed 182nd on the Profit 500list of the fastest growing companies in Canada — the highest ranked company from Manitoba with 2015 revenue between $10 million and $20 million.
McCormick is passionate about his heritage and personally sponsors an educational program that teaches mukluk-making to Indigenous communities across the country.
And while his company trades on its Indigenous heritage, it’s something McCormick treats with a solemn respect.
“Quite frankly, I think our authenticity is established by the actions we take in the community way more than who might be the owners,” he explains. “That said, when it comes to self-sufficiency, development, and sustainability, we (Indigenous Peoples) need to own our own things.”
Why did the world's leading diamond company De Beers have the confidence to announce in May an investment of up to $20.4 million to research a potential diamond play in northern Saskatchewan? Because of the quality of the Government of Saskatchewan's geological information. The Saskatchewan Geological Survey (SGS) team, operating out of the Ministry of the Economy, conducts surveys and packages the data, which provides insight into the province's geology that mining exploration companies need to make decisions about where to explore.
In 2010, the SGS, in partnership with the Geological Survey of Canada, commissioned an airborne geophysical survey over the northwest part of the Athabasca Basin in northern Saskatchewan. Using specialized geophysical equipment, the airborne survey measured the local rock properties, resulting in data anomalies that indicated the possible presence of kimberlite - the volcanic rock that brings diamonds to the surface. These data anomalies were used by exploration company CanAlaska Uranium Ltd. (CanAlaska) to determine the presence of 75 potential kimberlite targets.
In 2016, De Beers found the potential kimberlite targets promising enough to option the claims staked by CanAlaska. De Beers will work with CanAlaska to conduct follow-up research in stages over the next few years. The work will include more detailed airborne surveys, diamond indicator sampling, and drill testing of prioritized targets.
"We are very pleased to have joined forces with the world's premier diamond explorer to evaluate this 17,400 hectare (43,000 acre) claim package," says CanAlaska president Peter Dasler.
This is only one example where research undertaken by the SGS has resulted in significant investments in mineral exploration. Again this summer, the SGS team has set up a number of field camps across northern Saskatchewan.. At these camps, SGS geologists, working with summer students who are studying geology at university, are investigating the local rocks in an effort to unravel the geologic history of the province. This information, which is publically released, is a necessary prerequisite to encourage and focus new mineral exploration.
The growing global fight against climate change is turning the eyes of investors on Saskatchewan thanks to the province’s inventory of high-grade uranium.
Used to power nuclear energy, uranium’s popularity is growing as world powers move to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.
“It is becoming a much more favourable alternative energy source because of its very low carbon footprint in helping mitigate climate change,” says Ross McElroy, chief geologist and president of Fission Uranium, a Kelowna, B.C.-based junior exploration company.
McElroy was recently meeting with nuclear energy producers in China, where a firm bought a 20 per cent stake in Fission.
Saskatchewan, already the world’s second-largest producer of uranium, is poised to grow with the re-emergence of nuclear energy.
While Kazakhstan is the largest global uranium producer, the ore mined in Saskatchewan is of a much higher grade.
At the centre of the story is the Athabasca Basin in the province’s north where mining and production of uranium has been underway for more than 63 years, says Gary Delaney, chief geologist with Saskatchewan’s Geological Survey with the Ministry of the Economy.
“Uranium mining in Saskatchewan started in 1953 in the Uranium City area and subsequently in 1974 in the Athabasca Basin after the discovery of high grade deposits there. In total we’ve produced over 344,000 tonnes of uranium.”
Roughly 400 kilometres from east to west and about 200 kilometres from north to south, the Athabasca Basin has the most plentiful high-grade deposits of uranium in the world. It is also home to the world’s largest operations, run by major players such as Cameco Corporation and AREVA Resources Canada, whose parent firm is a French multinational energy company.
“Of all the uranium mined so far in the province, over 85 per cent of that has come from the Athabasca Basin and more specifically mostly the eastern part of the basin,” Delaney says. “That’s where McArthur River, Cigar Lake and Rabbit Lake — the big powerhouse mines — are located.”
But now companies are looking at the virtually untouched western part of the basin.
“There have been at least three major discoveries in the southwestern Athabasca basin in the last three or four years, and that’s certainly drawing a lot of attention,” says Delaney. “And there’s still tremendous geological potential for new discoveries.”
That’s where Fission made its major discovery just over three years ago. The find, called Patterson Lake South, has uncovered at least 108 million pounds of ore, says McElroy.
“That’s in the upper echelon of deposits in the Athabasca Basin, just on its size alone,” McElroy says. “But the one characteristic that we have that’s unique to every other deposit is its close proximity to the surface.”
While development has been ongoing, demand for uranium has been anything but steady. And the price for a pound (uranium’s standard unit) has reflected demand, which in turn drives development of new mining operations in the basin, McElroy says.
“When I started in the uranium business in the mid-’80s, uranium was $16 US a pound, and it was heading lower, eventually bottoming at about $7 a pound.”
The price crept upward over several years until a massive run-up in the mid-2000s that peaked in 2007 at about $140 a pound. It fell back with the 2008 stock market crash and then rose again until 2011. Then the Japanese nuclear disaster hit. The price plummeted after a tsunami sparked by a massive earthquake led to the partial meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear reactor.
The disaster spurred a rethink. Interest in developing more nuclear capacity around the world disappeared as nations put projects on hold to assess risks.
But many of the anxieties over nuclear power have now subsided as governments realize its downsides can be mitigated. More importantly, the concerns are being outweighed by the risks posed by burning fossil fuels, which drive climate change. There are more nuclear reactors being built now than prior to the Fukushima incident. Now the spot price of uranium has rebounded to around $28 per pound, according to UX Consulting Co.
While Fission’s discovery continues to grow, production is still about a decade away. But the long process is worth the time and effort, McElroy says.
“Because the deposits here in Saskatchewan are incredibly high grade, the economics are more attractive than anywhere else in the world.”
By Derek Lothian, originally published in Prairie Manufacturer Magazine
Fifty-two countries represented, $500 million in sales reason to celebrate the 39th edition of Canada’s Farm Progress Show
It is known on the Prairies as the ‘backyard’ showcase for agricultural equipment manufacturers. But outside our own borders, Canada’s Farm Progress Show has become the global destination for the latest in ag technology.
Agbor Ndoma, executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Development in Nigeria, is one of more than 700 visitors who traveled to Regina from 52 countries this past June to take in the show. He was the first Nigerian delegate in the event’s 39-year history.
Ndoma came away exceptionally impressed with the volume of Canadian-made innovation, including with IntraGrain Technologies, a local manufacturer of mobile grain storage monitoring systems.
“In Nigeria, it can be terribly hot. Right now, if you put any grain into storage, you should be able to track the temperature and moisture content at the same time,” Ndoma explains. “The technology that I saw [at the show] with IntraGrain is so incredible. I can have the temperature and moisture content right on my phone, anywhere in the world.”
Chris Dekker, president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Trade & Export Partnership, credits the show’s International Business Centre (IBC) with energizing on-site sales. Organizers estimate that exhibitors racked up $500 million in transactions over the three-day period.
“The Farm Progress Show is not only a fantastic showcase for Canada’s innovative agri-equipment manufacturers — it’s big business,” says Dekker. “The IBC brings international buyers and exporters together in one marketplace, and provides a suite of business services to facilitate sales.”
The IBC is manned by professional staff and volunteer subject matter experts, who work around-the-clock to expedite introductions and meetings between buyers, trade delegations, and manufacturers.
Show Manager Shirley Janeczko echoes that sentiment, and says the dichotomy between regional and global buyers is what makes Canada’s Farm Progress Show the ideal stage to introduce new products and technologies.
This year, 17 new innovations were spotlighted, while another three formal product launches were held, helping to drive 41,000 attendees through the show gates.
“The heart of Western Canada is the ag industry, and agriculture is thriving,” says Janeczko. “Speaking to exhibitors, the people coming through the booths were not only qualified, they were buying. The whole economy the way it is, I think that is a good indicator the industry is strong.”
In total, 700 manufacturers, service providers, and support organizations exhibited at the show in 2016 — 81 per cent of which are based in the three Prairie provinces and 14 per cent of which hail from outside the country.
With the show’s 40th anniversary now officially less than one year out, planning is already underway to ensure it is the biggest and best yet. Additional outdoor space will be made available near the soon-to-be-completed Mosaic Stadium, and new pavement will be laid. Then, a year later, in 2018, the 150,000-square-foot International Trade Centre is expected to open its doors to Canada’s Farm Progress Show.
“The demand for more space just keeps growing,” says Janeczko. “And that’s built on reputation. This is where you come to secure the sale.”
Jim and Sheila Boire, owners of RMD Engineering Inc. in Saskatoon, have minds that never stop looking for solutions. During a flight in 2011, Jim just happened to sit beside someone who shared her concerns about the enormous challenges her daughter faced every day because of multiple sclerosis. By the time Boire returned home, an idea was already percolating.
“We ended up designing and building a human lift system that would help the daughter exercise and rehabilitate her legs,” he says.
The system worked so well, the girl’s parent—Dr. Lynda Haverstock, and her husband, Harley Olsen—joined the staff of RMD Engineering to ensure other mobility-limited people struggling to recover from neurological conditions, spinal cord injury, brain injury or multiple sclerosis would have access to the new technology. Most recently, the human lift system was installed within the YWCA in Saskatoon as a 10-week Next Step pilot program in conjunction with the Saskatoon Health Region and URO Medical Supplies to determine whether or not the program can be delivered on an ongoing basis.
For the Boires, however, an idea never stops. “We’re also developing this system into an animal lift system,” explains Jim. “Previously, if a horse broke its leg, a bullet was the only solution. Now there will be a better one.”
Knowing they are making a difference has been very gratifying for Jim and Sheila Boire. Both are graduates of the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Engineering. Sheila, who had always enjoyed math and physics, pursued degrees in mechanical engineering because it seemed a great way to turn theoretical work into real-life projects. Jim, a journeyman machinist by trade, met Sheila when he returned to campus to finally pursue his boyhood dream of becoming a mechanical engineer. In May 2003, they decided to start their own engineering company. “We bought a 1,200-square foot machine shop in Saskatoon with the idea that we would do all the engineering and design work and then build stuff ourselves,” Jim says. Their work was so good, $50 orders quickly grew to $500 projects, and eventually RMD Engineering designed and built a uranium packaging system for Cameco’s Key Lake uranium mine that made it possible for Cameco to safely package and load product for transport.
Excellence, word of mouth, and solid client relationships rapidly propelled RMD to the front of the line. Today, RMD Engineering operates out of a 60,000 square feet facility with over 50 employees, including journeyman welders, machinists and millwrights and electricians; engineering technologists and physicists, mechatronics engineers, and other highly-skilled tradespeople and professionals. The annual payroll is $2.5 million; considerably more is spent every year sourcing equipment for a growing clientele that now includes the Canadian Light Source, Areva, Mosaic, Streamline Automation, PCS, and the Western College of Veterinarian Medicine, among others high profile companies, including companies as far away as Germany.
“I’m a huge fan of buying locally,” says Sheila. “When you work with suppliers in your community, it’s like working with your own neighbours, so you’re operating as more of a partnership. Plus, you build your own community and make it stronger.”
RMD also has its own product line of Computer Numerical Control Routers (CNC)—equipment used to scan items and reproduce them on a bigger scale. “Joe Fafard now uses one of these routers to carve his horses,” says Jim. “We recently saw a 130-foot whale made by our machine on display at the Smithsonian.”
RMD Engineering has been carving an important niche for itself with the Canadian Light Source (CLS) in Saskatoon and other similar installations elsewhere. The most recent was the Elliptically Polarizing Undulator (EPU) that uses powerful magnets to cause the electron beam of the synchrotron to generate x-rays of polarization that can be controlled, and that will facilitate a variable focus as well as switching between high-energy and low-energy experiments. When the EPU is operational in 2017, it will become a permanent part of the beam line and will allow researchers using the synchrotron to study and develop state-of-the-art technologies, from superconductors to car batteries. RMD spent over 9,500 hours engineering, machining and assembling the EPU—the largest of its kind in the world.
RMD’s first project for the CLS was specialized equipment for its biomedical beamline (BMIT). “At first, we didn’t think we had the capacity to build it,” says Jim, “but when they told us it’s never been built before, we were on. We love a challenge like that.”
The equipment that RMD designed, developed and built is a large animal positioning system—also the only one of its kind in the world—that allows researchers to move an animal as large as a horse or cow into the necessary position while a big camera positioning system records images as they are being taken. Modifications to the system now allow the same processes to be used with smaller animals.
The newest project underway is working with the CLS on the manufacture of silicon crystals. These are used at synchrotrons around the world to enable scientists and researchers to manipulate the beam for a specific purpose—in effect, functioning as part of the lens, focusing and filtering system. “The beam itself has a range of energy, and silicon crystals are often used to select a specific energy. There are only two manufacturers of these types of crystals in North America and we’re currently developing a quality assurance process to test the silicon crystals that we manufacture,” says Sheila. Not only does Sheila find this project challenging, but the work is attracting the attention of world-class x-ray optics people. “It’s nice to go to conferences and listen to people talk about this little shop in Saskatoon,” she muses.
“We’re a wacky company,” laughs Jim. “One day we’re making a transvaginal ultrasonic device for use on bison, and the next we’re designing and building something for a resource company that no one has done before. Every project is different. It’s a fun company to work in—you may get frustrated as you’re looking for a solution to a challenge, but you never get bored!”
The Boires are happy to be in Saskatchewan. “This is where the work is,” says Jim. “We have everything here—oil, gas, uranium, potash, and the country’s only synchrotron. We’re right where we’re supposed to be. Saskatchewan is a great learning place… a great business place!”
For more information, visit www.rmd-engineering.com
Officials in Saudi Arabia are impressed.
That’s the word the chief executive officer of Crestline Coach Ltd. received during a recent visit to the Middle Eastern kingdom to follow up on a large order of high-tech emergency services vehicles delivered last year to the Saudi government.
“They were more than satisfied, and that differentiates the quality of our product,” says Steven Hoffrogge, who heads up the Saskatoon-based manufacturer of ambulances and specialty buses.
“It’s been a very successful relationship for us that will bear fruit in terms of ongoing business as the reputation of the quality of our product and support gains a larger following.”
But by no means does the manufacturer stand alone in Saskatchewan. The province’s manufacturing sector has been flourishing in recent years, more than doubling in size over the past 15 years. Now employing more than 20,000 in full-time jobs, it generates between $14 billion and $16 billion in sales annually, says a recent report by Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and the Saskatchewan Manufacturing Council called Manufacturing 2025.
In many ways, this success is a reflection of the diversity of the province’s overall economy, says the head of the Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP), a non-profit organization partially funded by the provincial government that represents the industry on the national and international stage.
“One of the foundations of our manufacturing industry has been its ability to plug into the supply chain for our propulsive sectors of the economy, whether it’s oil and gas, mining or agriculture,” says Chris Dekker, president and CEO of STEP, based in Regina.
While the sector has found growth by serving these industries, Dekker also noted that it is diverse with manufacturers in automotive, satellite technology, food and beverage and chemical production.
And it’s globally focused.
“Because we have such a small population we have to export what we produce here,” Dekker says.
And that’s where STEP enters the picture.
“Our role is to help those manufacturers develop export sales to stay strong in the global marketplace,” he says about the organization that is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2016.
Its roles include providing customized market intelligence to help firms sell their goods in existing and emerging markets. It also helps companies promote their products at international trade shows and rustles up trade leads.
The formula has proven to be a winning one in recent years, according to the Manufacturing 2025 report.
It states sales for the province’s manufacturing sector have grown by 131 per cent since 2000 compared to about 11 per cent nationally. Still, the industry has plenty of room to grow. Manufacturing remains a relatively small — albeit important — engine in the province’s diversified economy, accounting for about 6.5 per cent of gross domestic product.
While small, it is making its mark on the world.
“In terms of per capita sales, we certainly punch above our weight in just pure manufacturing shipments and exports around the world.”
And the sector’s importance is forecast to grow in the next decade with sales expected to reach $25 billion annually in 2025, the CME/SMC report states.
Hoffrogge credits the provincial government for manufacturing’s rise.
“It’s clear the current government has allowed us to succeed, putting in place the supply chain and skills critical for manufacturers to grow,” he says.
“It opened the province up for business, making it pretty cost-effective to operate here.”
Case in point is the Manufacturing and Processing Exporter Tax Incentive — a non-refundable tax credit equal to $3,000 for every new full-time employee hired until 2019. In addition, the program offers further tax credits equal to $10,000 for companies hiring full-time employees at a head office located in the province.
Another key component is skills training to build local capacity and keep pace with growth. Already, the province has done a good job in this respect, Hoffrogge says.
“The people of Saskatchewan have a work ethic that is envied outside the region,” he says. “I’ve worked in manufacturing for over 25 years and I can tell you the dedication and skill you find here is unparalleled.”
This workforce is the backbone of innovation for the sector and critical to enabling firms to compete with producers operating in jurisdictions such as China with lower labour costs.
In fact, Dekker says the province’s companies thrive on competing with the rest of the world and look forward to the implementation of trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“We produce what the world needs and not just what it wants, and that allows us to be leaders in manufacturing,” he says. “Not only do we not fear free trade; we welcome it.”
For Jeremy Hartsook, owner of HES Manufacturing, in Eston, Saskatchewan, inventing The Air Cube grain bin aeration system solved a few problems weighing on his mind.
Customers were looking for ways to retrofit aeration to existing hopper-bottom bins, and Hartsook came up with a way to do that without dismantling the bin. Even better, his system could be installed by as few as two people—and in under two hours. It was a vast improvement over competing systems.
“Quite often they are installed before the bin is built,” he says. “Some of them are built right into the hopper bottom itself. There are maybe a couple of options on the market for a retrofit, but ours was built with intentions of retrofit, and hand-in-hand with retrofit also the ability to do it yourself.”
It seemed like a natural progression for the 10-year-old company.
“We started out making flat steel floors for grain bins,” Hartsook says. “Then the demand moved into hopper bottoms and we started doing those, and then about three years ago we began work on the aeration system and brought it to the market.”
Hartsook, who grew up on the family farm, just a mile down the road, says the Air Cube came about because he could see the problem from three angles: from the farming perspective, from the manufacturing perspective and from the installation perspective.
“We definitely wanted to build a product that was going to be easy to install, especially for the farmer who doesn’t have the equipment that the regular installation crews would have for installing such an item,” he says.
“Most farming operations are either father-son or a farmer and his hired hands, so in most instances there would be enough help to get the job done.”
Because of the way it’s assembled, the Air Cube is also easy to transport, reaching a large trading area served by Federated Co-Operatives’ network of Agro Centres throughout western Canada.
“We actually have three different size units for different capacity grain bins,” Hartsook says. “Two of the three fit into a four-foot by four-foot by four-foot crate, so they will fit right into the back of your half-ton. That’s one of the other benefits to the product — it’s easy to move around. Compared to other products on the market, it’s a little more convenient in that regard.”
In addition to bins commonly in use, Hartsook estimates that there are tens of thousands of older bins on farms across the prairies that could benefit even more from the Air Cube, producing environmental savings as they help farmers improve productivity.
“Everything is getting bigger and bigger on the farm,” he explains. “The equipment is getting bigger, the grain bins are getting bigger, and—especially at harvest time when you can combine sections of land much faster than your previous generations—it gets put into the bin a lot quicker. On a hot day, you’re putting hot grain in a bin and you need to cool it down.”
For example, Hartsook says, a 30,000 bushel bin might have cool grain at the bottom loaded earlier in the day, and cool grain at the top loaded near the end of the day, with hot grain in the centre loaded during the heat of the day.
“You’re going to have a hot spot in the bin and you need to cool that down somehow,” he says. “On some of these larger diameter bins you might have to turn the grain. That takes time, fuel, things like that. Whereas, if you took your hot loads when you’re harvesting and put them into some of your smaller storage bins that had aeration, then you can just turn the fan on to cool it down and you don't have to turn the grain. That can speed up the operation.
“That's why our system has an environmental impact,” he says. “You can take a lot of these older bins that guys would fill too quickly and otherwise might move on from and build new storage. They can utilize the old storage. During the heat of the day they can store that particular batch of crop in that bin and then as it is cooler in the mornings and evenings they can use different bins.
“With our system, you can maximize profitability by properly conditioning certain loads of grain, whether they were too hot or too wet, that you didn't want to have blended with some that was harvested at a more even rate.”
Saskatoon-based mining company Cameco Corporation, operator of the Cigar Lake Mine, reports it is on track to reach its production goal of 18 million pounds of uranium at the mine by 2017 — less than 18 months after the mine’s official opening last fall.
One of the world’s richest uranium deposits, the ore body at Cigar Lake, some 700 kilometres north of Saskatoon, was discovered back in 1981. Since then companies, mainly Cameco, have spent more than three decades overcoming challenges and inventing new mining techniques to finally reach the production stage. But Cameco’s president and CEO, Tim Gitzel, is confident that his company has hit the jackpot in Saskatchewan’s ore-heavy landscape.
“Saskatchewan is a province blessed with mineral riches — potash, coal, gold,” says Mr. Gitzel, “and also world-class uranium reserves in the north.”
Indeed, the Cigar Lake mine is one of a long list of successful mining ventures in the Prairie province of Saskatchewan, where the industry accounts for 30,000 jobs and is showing significant signs of growth. In fact, the Canadian public-policy think tank Fraser Institute’s 2015 Survey of Mining Companies ranked Saskatchewan the second-best mining jurisdiction in the world and the first within Canada due to its competitive tax system and transparency over land claims, which makes it an attractive mining investment.
The Saskatchewan government continues to see the mining industry as a driver of economic growth and activity. The province saw an estimated $238-million spent on mineral exploration last year, the bulk going to uranium. Based on 2015 preliminary numbers, the total value of Saskatchewan’s mineral sales for 2015 is approximately $8.2-billion and the province accounts for approximately 22 per cent of the world’s primary uranium production.
For Cameco, it’s been a long journey getting into production, with the most challenging hurdles generated by two floods in 2006 and 2008, which filled the mines with water and hindered the mining company’s progress towards production. But the high-grade uranium was too good to pass up. “There was no other choice. We had to pump out the water and start over again,” recalls Mr. Gitzel. “It looked pretty grim and there were many that said we’d never get it right.”
However, within the decade, he was able to prove their critics wrong, giving credit to the ingenuity and perseverance of his team that developed a unique mining method to get at the ore body, which was locked within a water-saturated sandstone. Extraction required freezing the ore body by way of a series of underground pipes and a -30 C brine solution, then employing a drilling method called jet boring, which cuts through the frozen rock with a high-powered jet of water. The resulting slurry is then pumped to the surface.
“Whenever I see the drilling, I marvel at the high-tech robotics and think about how long it took us to get here,” says Mr. Gitzel, “but also how it’s all been worth it.”
Cigar Lake is just the beginning, according to Mr. Gitzel, who explains there are already junior miners in the area exploring for more potential uranium deposits. And the demand is there with customers from all over the world looking for uranium to fuel nuclear power plants in the U.S., China, India and France.
“Saskatchewan is a very attractive province for mining—lots of potential,” agrees Vincent Martin, president and CEO of Saskatoon-headquartered AREVA Resources Canada, whose geologists discovered the Cigar Lake deposit. AREVA owns 37 per cent of the Cigar Lake project, and now processes the mined uranium at its McClean Lake facility, which is 80 kilometres away from the mine. “We have been active in the area since 1980 and see this as an investment,” he adds, “not only in the industry but also in the communities that surround the mine.”
Both the mine at Cigar Lake and the McClean Lake mill employ more than 800 full-time workers and hundreds of contractors, with more than half of those employees coming from indigenous communities in the area.
“We’re striving to increase this number,” says Mr. Martin, referring to AREVA’s training programs and scholarships. “They know the area and the land and we think that providing employment opportunities to these communities is beneficial to us and to them.”
Saskatoon-based unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturer Draganfly Innovations Inc. made headlines in November, 2014 when the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., added the company’s Draganflyer X4-ES to its permanent collection, the first UAV to find a place in the museum.
This particular UAV had itself made headlines more than a year earlier when, in May, 2013, it had been used to locate a man who went missing after being injured in a car crash near St. Denis, east of Saskatoon. Ground searchers and air ambulance crews were unable to find the driver, but the UAV, equipped with forward-looking infrared (FLIR) imaging, pinpointed the acutely hypothermic man and allowed rescuers to retrieve him in the nick of time. It was the world’s first documented life-saving search-and-rescue mission involving a small UAV, and that’s why the Smithsonian wanted this X4-ES.
Draganfly is used to “firsts”. In 1998, long before the public’s current fascination with recreational drones, owners Christine and Zenon Dragan launched the company, building mostly remote-controlled airplanes, helicopters and toy blimps.
“In 1999, we built our first four-rotor helicopter, commonly called a multi-rotor helicopter,” Zenon Dragan says. “That's the (type of) helicopters you see everywhere now.”
“We are the longest running manufacturer of multi-rotor helicopters in the world,” Dragan says. “That's a huge trend that started with multi-rotor helicopters flying video cameras and taking still photography. We've been doing that the longest, more than any other company in the world.”
While most people now associate UAVs and drones with recreational or hobbyist use, Dragan foresaw a different direction early on.
“We started off in the hobby market and then we moved more to the industrial market,” he says. “We started working with police departments.”
“These UAVs are often used for things like accident reconstruction,” Dragan says. “We can fly over an accident and can collect a lot of data in a very quick manner. It's very accurate data and police can clear the roads faster.”
“We can create a 3-D model that’s accurate within a couple of centimetres,” he adds.
The same technology is also ideal for homicide investigations.
“For court purposes it really gives you a much clearer picture of what they think happened,” he says.
In addition to these types of public safety uses, the technology has immense potential in commercial and industrial applications, such as oil, mining, utility and agriculture, Dragan says.
Small, portable UAVs can replace more expensive, time-consuming or labour-intensive tasks. For example, Draganflyers have seen testing or deployment in hydro tower and petroleum flare stack inspections.
“We can fly and scale a tower—and take video and photos while going up there—and give very accurate imagery showing the condition of that tower,” Dragan says, explaining that recent tests for an Ontario utility company showed great promise, quickly pinpointing problems presented on a simulated tower inspection.
“We found all of them in a three or four minute flight,” he says. “We can very quickly get that information.”
The most imaginative applications of UAV technology can also be the most unexpected. Citing one such instance, Dragan explains that the company has completed a novel assignment for the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure.
Throughout the province, large piles of sand and gravel await use in upcoming maintenance and construction projects.
“They need to accurately measure how much gravel is in a pile and account for it,” Dragan says. “Right now, they kind of do an educated guess. We flew over the gravel pile, in a couple minutes, and we put it into a program that tells you the volumetric of the gravel pile. It's no longer a guess — and it only took a couple of minutes.”
Highways crews have also found the technology useful for bridge inspections.
“Our image quality is so good, you can see the writing on the heads of the bolts. It's a lot of information that's captured a lot easier than it ever could be before.”
One of the reasons that these applications are so successful is that the company writes its own software, working with established mapping companies to create new, specialized systems that support a wide range of commercial and industrial applications.
“We had no idea that we would actually be using UAVs for a particular reason,” Dragan says, explaining one very unusual request.
“We went to go look for Sasquatch in BC for a film company in the United States, using our thermal camera. No, we didn't find it, but we never thought we would be looking for a Sasquatch or Bigfoot! There's no end to the applications.”
Although Saskatchewan has been affected by low oil prices, its diverse economy, abundant resources and progressive industry practices are positioning it to take advantage of the inevitable rebound.
While slumping oil prices have hurt oil producers and oil-producing provinces alike, the belt tightening also allows them to find new efficiencies and innovative ways to drill.
According to Scott Saxberg, president and CEO of Crescent Point Energy, this is especially true in Saskatchewan, where favourable economic and regulatory conditions allow companies like his to experiment and innovate.
“Because of the shallow nature of the oil fields in Saskatchewan and lower cost to drill wells, we’ve been able to test several types of technology,” says Mr. Saxberg. “This is a bit of silver lining in this downturn. And it will give us an advantage later, when prices improve.”
As Canada’s fourth largest independently owned oil and gas company, Crescent Point does the bulk of its drilling in the province and has been experimenting with technologies such as “tight rock waterflooding” – injecting produced water into unconventional, tight rock reservoirs to increase the percentage of oil recovered – making each play more productive. Crescent Point has also experimented with different completions techniques and fluids, and last year made the commitment to replace fresh water used in the completions process in its largest Saskatchewan oil plays with salt water that is naturally produced in the oil production process.
While Crescent Point came to Saskatchewan for its massive oil formations – including the Bakken in the province’s southeast and Lower Shaunavon in the southwest – and lower costs to conduct business, the company has also been won over by the proactive way the government works with industry to work out problems and ensure that business goes smoothly.
“One of the things that really distinguishes Saskatchewan from the other [oil] provinces is just the hands-on nature of the government’s energy group,” explains Mr. Saxberg. “You get person-to-person contact. You’re not just shuffled around from one department to another. You can pick up the phone, talk to them, work out issues and figure out ways to do things better.”
As a result, Crescent Point plans to spend up to 85 per cent of its $950-million in capital expenditures in the province, in 2016, including exploring the potential of a new play called Flat Lake, hundreds of kilometres in size, on the border with North Dakota.
Ed Dancsok, assistant deputy minister, senior strategic lead for oil and gas development in Saskatchewan, points out that the province has worked hard to create a “welcoming business environment with a strong and transparent regulatory regime that keeps industry on task and working towards specific goals. The framework also provides a level playing field for all industry to do their work in the province.”
The province also provides royalty incentives for drilling certain types of wells with innovative technologies, including hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling – a lateral approach to drilling oil reservoirs that allows an oil company to reach more resources with fewer wells.
The more efficient drilling processes have also helped oil companies to revive oil fields that seemed to be tapped out.
The Viking play, for example, is an extensive pool that runs into Alberta and has been producing for 50 years.
“By 2010 we thought it was pretty well depleted,” says Mr. Dancsok. “But oil companies brought in horizontal wells and found fresh oil, reviving that pool very nicely.”
Indeed, Mr. Dancsok points out the key to getting the most of an oil field is “not always about finding new oil with old ideas; it’s about accessing old oil using new ideas.”
Among the new ideas that Saskatchewan is promoting is to use steam-assisted gravity technology (SAGD) to recover greater quantities of heavy oil. Where once, with old practices, heavy oil recovery rates were five per cent, now companies such as Husky Energy, Northern Blizzard and Serafina Energy are employing SAGD to realize recovery rates as high as 60 to 65 per cent.
Saskatchewan is Canada’s second largest oil producer and third largest natural gas producer. While drilling activity declined by 50 per cent in 2015, and there has been an impact on employment, the province has been able to weather the storm thanks to its diversified economy.
“We are the leading agricultural exporter in Canada,” says Saskatchewan’s Minister of the Economy Bill Boyd. “We have the second lowest unemployment rate among the provinces. And some of the skills that would have been used in the oil field have been transferred to manufacturing, mining and industries.”
With the province holding the course economically and the oil industry tightening its belt and finding new ways to operate, both are better prepared to take advantage of the day when oil prices inevitably rebound from the current trough.
“We’re very focused on innovation and growing in Saskatchewan, taking advantage of the favourable conditions here,” says Saxberg. “When prices turn around, we’ll see an increase in capital expenditures and growth in production – there’s many years of drilling inventory that needs to be done. We’re very excited about the future here.”
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it's passion that takes an idea all the way to the global marketplace.
Assiniboia area farmer Dave Dietrich has plenty of passion—as well as a commitment to other farmers who find themselves in the same situation he found himself in 1998; when he tried harvesting a new variety of lentils with a brand new set of crop lifters, he discovered he had absolutely nothing in the hopper for his effort. Not only did the lifters take hours to install on his header, they'd actually pounded the lentils deeper into the ground.
Dietrich's need to salvage the crop drove him to his farm shop. After trial and error, he came up with a design that forms the basis of the Flexxifinger Pulse Crop Lifter, and ended up with a harvest of 38 bushels to the acre on his own field that year. The design incorporated flexible nylon fingers that could gently lift low-lying crops without breaking them, as well as a Quick-Detach (QD™) nut assembly system that made the lifters easy to put on and easy to remove—in minutes rather than hours.
Dietrich knew he had stumbled onto something. He continued to make improvements for a couple of years, testing his invention on different harvests and making adjustments where necessary. Then he applied for a patent. He shopped his idea around to a number of farm equipment manufacturers to no avail, and then realized that if his invention was ever going to become a useable product available to fellow farmers, he had to manufacture and market it himself.
Enlisting the services of a friend who used to run a machine shop business, Dietrich made about 10 sets of lifters in 2004 and sold them to nearby farmers who'd seen how they worked on Dietrich's land. Dietrich believed in his invention so completely, he told those farmers he wouldn't cash their cheques until they had used the product and that they could get their money back if they weren't happy.
"Nobody asked for their money back," chuckles Dietrich. "In 2005, we made 130 sets, and in 2006, we decided to take the Flexxifinger to the Farm Progress Show in Regina and enter it as a new invention. We won first place!"
Flexxifinger continued to operate out of Dietrich's farm shop until 2008, when the operation was moved to Assiniboia. Dietrich agrees it's been good for the town's economy. "But there's been an economic impact on farmers across North America who have bought our products, as well as on employees, suppliers, and those who deliver and sell our product," Dietrich explains, and offers one example of many similar testimonials he's received.
"One producer in Arizona called me in a panic. He had 1,100 acres of durum crop he expected was in excess of 100 bushels to the acre, but he tried every crop lifter he could get his hands on, and nothing worked. After our senior product support person met with him, we sent him our FlexxiFloat™ Crop Lifter system. In the end, he managed to get between 40-60 bushels to the acre more than he had on the 700 acres he had already combined. He also managed to recover grain from the straw left in the field. That's what I mean by 'economic impact'. Many of the farmers who have purchased our product have made about 50—100 per cent more profit on their farm than they would have before they bought our product."
Dietrich places great value on meeting producers' needs. With a staff of about 18, including R&D, producer support specialists and administration/accounting staff, Flexxifinger manufactures a variety of products. "We have nylon fingers, all-metal lifters, and hybrids—depending on what people have asked for, soil types and conditions in different areas and countries, and crops. The one thing that hasn't changed is the attachment and detachment method that enables producers to make rapid changeovers," he says. The newest product is the Flexxifinger Corn Harvest Pan™ that works for both corn and sunflower crops with a simple changeover kit. Dietrich and his team have also signed an agreement with an inventor of a new design of rock picker—the Flexxifinger® Quicker Picker—that fits on the front of a skid steer and that removes dirt and straw from rocks before they're placed in a rock pile.
Product promotion has been as critical as product innovation. "We sell something producers don't need until a storm hits at a critical time, but when it does, they need us immediately. I realized dealers won't stock product until farmers request it, so I decided we had to take the product to shows, talk to farmers, answer their questions, and get directly involved with farmers to design a product that would give them a positive experience," says Dietrich. Flexxifinger participated in almost 30 farm shows across North America last year, and in the past have attended shows in China and the massive Agrotechnica show in Germany. Flexxifinger has also received visitors from all over the world at the Assiniboia plant.
Dietrich's personal touch has given Flexxifinger the market edge it needed to grow. The company still sells directly to farmers, but as a result of interaction with producers and show promotion—and the many awards won in the process—demand for the product has grown. Flexxifinger now has more than 400 dealers across North America and Australia, as well as end-users in New Zealand, South Africa, Israel, Kenya, Zaire, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Scotland, France, Russia, Bulgaria, and other countries in Europe.
Success isn't without challenge, however. One of the biggest is shipping out of rural Saskatchewan. In 2014, when weather events across western Canada sparked demand, Flexxifinger was selling so much product, couriers were at capacity. "We couldn't ship all we could sell, so our own staff started trailering goods to Calgary to deliver to dealers. And it's not easy to get air freight out of Saskatchewan. Lifters headed for Bulgaria first had to be driven to Winnipeg, unloaded, and then trucked to Calgary so they could get on a plane because the price to get them to Calgary directly was higher than via Winnipeg. That's an issue," says Dietrich.
The Assiniboia location works well in every other regard. "Some of our costs may be higher, but building costs and taxes are probably less than in the city. Being in Assiniboia also means we can always have our ears to the ground, and we are in the heart of the people who use the product. People can also get personalized service because we're a small town, and that includes our staff and our customers," says Dietrich, who then adds with a chuckle, "It also means we are at least an hour away from the closest traffic light."
For more information on Flexxifinger and its product lines, visitwww.flexxifinger.com.
A demonstration project to study the injection of carbon dioxide (CO2) captured from SaskPower's Boundary Dam coal-fired power plants into a deep saline formation holds significant promise.
The Aquistore Project has been receiving a portion of the CO2 captured from SaskPower's Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage(CCS) Demonstration Project at Boundary Dam via a pipeline to an injection site on SaskPower's property about two kilometres west of the power station. As of the end of April 2016 over 50,000 tonnes of CO2 have been injected.
This CO2 is being injected into a 3.4-kilometre-deep well—the deepest ever drilled in Saskatchewan. The CO2 is compressed to become dense and liquid-like, and remains in the state because of the pressure and temperature of the reservoir. The injected CO2 is now being evaluated and monitored for the duration of the project using millions of dollars in measuring equipment at the site.
Aquistore is a collaborative project between governments and industry and has received $9 million in funding from Natural Resources Canada, $5 million from Sustainable Development Technology Canada, and another $5 million from the Government of Saskatchewan. A significant component of the $45 million overall project funding is coming from the energy and petroleum sectors, including Enbridge, Schlumberger, the Korean National Oil Corporation, Co-operative Consumer Refinery Limited, and SaskPower. Other partners have contributed through direct funding and in-kind contributions including fieldwork, research and equipment. SaskPower is the owner and operator of the wells and the pipeline.
The Petroleum Technology Research Centre (PTRC) located at Regina's research park manages the research and monitoring components of the project. The Science and Engineering Research Committee (SERC)—a body of expert scientists and researchers specializing in CO2 storage from academic and research organizations across Canada and the U.S.—acts as an advisory committee and will continue to provide expert opinion and technical oversight of the project, including the measurement, monitoring and verification.
"Simply put, this project is intended to demonstrate that storing captured carbon dioxide 3.4 kilometres underground is a safe, workable and long-term solution to help reduce greenhouse gases," says Kyle Worth, Aquistore Project Manager at PTRC.
A great deal of research has gone into the project so far. "The design phase began in 2009, we started breaking ground in 2011. We have been injecting since April of 2015," says Worth.
The incentive for Aquistore is huge. "The majority of climate scientists agree if we do not reduce CO2 emissions, significant climate change will occur, including extreme weather and temperature events that could affect us both locally and globally. So for PTRC, carbon capture and storage is a key part of the solution to reducing CO2 emissions from large industrial sources," explains Worth. "The second driver is SaskPower's need to meet federal emission regulations; without implementing CCS, SaskPower would have to close its existing coal-fired power plants and invest heavily in alternative energy sources."
Despite a low population, Saskatchewan has Canada's highest per-capita greenhouse gas emissions. Coal-fired power plants are the largest fixed emitters of greenhouse gases. Saskatchewan is one of three provinces where the carbon footprint of electricity generated by coal plants is so high, driving a gas-powered car is still greener than driving an electric vehicle. The good news is, however, that Aquistore alone—with a daily capacity of 2,000 tonnes of CO2—is capable of storing emissions equivalent to 250,000 vehicles per year.
"The biggest benefit of Aquistore is that it will allow Saskatchewan to continue to use readily-available coal as an economic energy source," says Worth, "but there are secondary benefits as well that may ultimately help build regional, national and global capacity for carbon capture and storage, and that can be shared with industry. The data from projects such as Aquistore is relevant to not just CCS organizations, but to the oil and gas industries, geologists, or other fixed emitters such as steel mills or refineries."
One of the leading-edge technologies that is being tested and evaluated in collaboration with the Geological Survey of Canada is a permanent array of 650 geophones installed 20 metres deep within a 45-km2 area. Data will be transmitted via direct lines to equipment at the surface. "This will make it possible to monitor and track the CO2 plume in the reservoir," says Worth. "Tracking, monitoring and quantifying the movement of CO2 3.4 kilometres underground is definitely a key challenge."
The Japan Oil Gas and Metals National Corporation has also installed a permanent seismic source. "Typically, you need vibrating trucks or sources of energy—like dynamite—to record seismic, and it can be very expensive. Site and surface conditions can also impact the ability to obtain seismic readings. By having a constant seismic source near the site, we now have the ability to remotely control and acquire key data," explains Worth.
As part of the project, an observation well has been drilled 150 metres away from the injection well to help monitor any CO2 movement. The field data acquired will reduce the uncertainty of how CO2 acts when stored in deep geological formation. Here, too, technology is leading-edge. "The observation well has been fitted with fibre-optic acoustic sensor lines running on the outside of the casing and cemented in place," says Worth. "We are one of only a few wells in the world using acoustic fibre-lines, but it is applicable to industries other than CO2 storage. For example, oil and gas companies using high temperature or high pressure wells can deploy this technology to gather reservoir information."
Worth says that all the technology and equipment, including sensors that track what's happening at different formations within the reservoir and various surface installations, have been designed with one key objective: to enable PTRC to track, monitor and quantify how CO2 moves and acts in the reservoir. "Not only will our monitoring program track and monitor any changes in the reservoir all the way from 3.4 kilometres down to the surface, we are including regular groundwater and soil-gas surveys throughout the entire project within a 10 kilometre radius. If data indicates a need, we can customize and expand our area of investigation. We have also been monitoring groundwater in collaboration with local residents prior to CO2 injection and will continue to do so during injection to demonstrate that there has been no impact on groundwater."
There is also a patent pending down-hole fluid recovery system that will be operated by the University of Alberta. "This system will allow us to take samples of fluids right within the reservoir," says Worth. "It means we will now have an opportunity to confirm and improve predictive-simulation models.
"Together, these smart wells are two of the most sophisticated wells ever drilled in Saskatchewan," adds Worth. "Because we have drilled and logged these two wells as thoroughly as we have, we also have been able to fill a critical gap in understanding the geological characteristics of the area. There are very few wells drilled to this depth in the area. This data is now available to the public and could lead to further resource development in the area."
About 30 consultants and industry people are working on the project, with an additional 20 national and international researchers contributing expertise.
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