BRANDON'S Behlen Industries is the first Manitoba company in many years to set up shop in Russia.
This month Canada's largest manufacturer of steel building systems set up a sales and support office in Moscow to manage a growing book of business for its proprietary engineered frameless steel buildings.
Paul Cunningham, president and CEO of WGI Westman Group Inc., the privately owned conglomerate that owns Behlen, said the Russian and eastern Europe and western Asian market hold all sorts of opportunity for Behlen.
"We have been selling large, complicated structures into the Russian market for mining and the oil and gas industry for the last 10 years," Cunningham said. "In the last few years we've really got acceptance from the Russian government and we've become the preferred supplier of recreation facilities."
Behhlen makes two types of steel buildings -- rigid frame steel buildings with heavy iron beams that are primarily used for industrial purposes and frameless steel structures with heavy wall panels that support the roof and require no internal frame at all.
It's the latter designs that are finding success in eastern Europe.
"We've been swimming upstream in North America for a while with that product," Cunningham said. "Rigid frames are far more acceptable here. The focus for the last few years have been on international sales. We have been getting sales leads through Ukraine, Russia, Cuba, South Africa, Turkey and Mongolia."
The big entrance into the market was a contract to build the largest frameless building in the world, currently being erected in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.
The indoor soccer field building will be approximately 95 metres wide, 122 metres long and 23 metres tall.
Sean Lepper, Behlen vice-president, said it was shipped to Russia in 70 containers.
The company has large projects already under contract for at least three other structures in and around Moscow.
"This is a massive step for us," Cunningham said. "We're very excited about the potential."
Lepper said the international business Behlen is doing will account for about a 20 per cent increase in the company's sales and likely another 20 per cent again next year. That will likely keep its growing Brandon workforce -- now numbering more than 300 -- busy for some time.