Convey-All Industries moved into a new 30,000-square-foot assembly plant last week -- the latest expansion for what has become Winkler's one-stop source for economic growth.
The company now operates in five or six locations in the southern Manitoba town, occupying about 150,000 square feet. Annual sales are approaching the $100-million mark.
Henry Friesen, a minority partner and the vice-president of sales and marketing, has been the driving force behind the company's dramatic expansion.
For his noteworthy contributions to Convey-All Industries' growth, he has been nominated for Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year award. He was recently named a finalist in the manufacturing category in the Prairie region.
He joins two other Manitobans still in the running for the awards -- Dianna Davidson of Magellan Vacations in the business-to-consumer products and services category and Regan Stevenson of Sunpeak Multiwise for emerging entrepreneur.
"It was a nice surprise to find out I was a finalist," Friesen said.
The Prairie winners will be announced at an awards gala on Oct. 11 in Calgary, and the overall winner will represent the region at the national gala in Toronto on Jan. 16.
When he joined Convey-All in 1996, there were about 95 employees. That's increased to more than 200.
In addition to its burgeoning conveyor-equipment manufacturing operations, the company owns a handful of other Winkler companies -- NuSteel Industries, a steel building manufacturer, Winkler Mini Storage and Global Hydronics, an outdoor-wood-furnace manufacturer.
Since the company was started in 1983 as a custom welding shop by founder and majority owner Bob Toews, Convey-All has built a solid dealership network across Western Canada servicing the grain industry.
In 2006, one of the major global oilfield services providers saw Convey-All equipment and wanted to see if the company could adapt an application for moving frac-sand into oil and gas drill sites.
"We had a customer who was being extremely pushy," Friesen said. "I was in his office one day, and he was upset we had not proceeded to design and build these units for him. He said he was losing millions of dollars because he couldn't get enough equipment. I said it was too costly. He then forked over a rather large cheque to begin as a down payment. That was where we started (in the oil and gas field) and after that, we went to town."
Friesen said they designed and built the company's first frac-sand system in six months.
"We were a newcomer to the industry at the time. Today we are the second-largest manufacturer of that type of equipment in the world," he said.
The oil and gas sector equipment has provided rapid growth over the past few years, but the ag sector has remained the solid, stable core.
According to Jerry Engel, president of Regina-based Agricultural Manufacturers of Canada, Convey-All has a major presence all over the world in the agricultural equipment field.
Growing export sales to Russia, Kazakhstan, Poland, Turkey, South Africa, Mexico and the United States continue to fuel growth.
"Henry is a real go-getter," Engel said. "Now they are diversified into the oil and gas sector, making the company even stronger."
Convey-All has a growing presence in the increasingly multi-ethnic makeup of the Pembina Valley. About half of its employees are German-speaking immigrants.