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Scraping together a handsome bottom line

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Shane Kroeker of K-Tec Earthmovers says interest in the firm's scrapers is coming from across the globe.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Shane Kroeker of K-Tec Earthmovers says interest in the firm's scrapers is coming from across the globe. Photo Store

A southern Manitoba manufacturing firm is ploughing a path to success with its own line of dirt-moving scrapers.

Demand for K-Tec Earthmovers Inc.'s scrapers, which can be pulled behind large tractors or dump trucks, is growing so fast the firm has already outgrown an 11,000-square-foot fabrication plant that opened just two years ago in the Rosenort Industrial Park.

"We're flat-out full there now," company founder Ken Rempel said.

Rempel said K-Tec's production has increased more than seven-fold in the last three years to 150 scrapers per year, with 75 per cent of those sales coming from export markets such as the United States and Australia.

And Shane Kroeker, the company's vice-president of marketing, said there's also interest in its scrapers from construction and mining companies in Europe, Poland, South America and Saudi Arabia.

But while K-Tec could definitely use more production space, Rempel and company co-owner Russ Goossen are taking a wait-and-see approach to further expansion.

"We'll see how the next year goes," Rempel said, adding whatever work the 75-employee firm can't handle in house will be farmed out to local contractors who are already doing work for the company.

He noted the current plant was a big step up from the company's original production facility -- a 3,200-square-foot shed on his Rosenort-area farm.

The farm is where K-Tec's manufacturing operation had its humble beginning. Rempel needed a bigger, more efficient scraper for the company's fledgling construction and earth-moving business, so he and his half a dozen workers set about designing and producing a more durable, lighter-weight scraper of its own during the winter of 2000-01.

After seeing how well it worked, Rempel decided to try marketing it to other local farmers and construction companies.

"That's when the phone started to ring off the wall. I had no idea there would be interest like that."

So in 2004, K-Tec went into full-scale production, churning out 44 scrapers that year. By 2006, demand was growing so fast Rempel sold the construction and dirt-moving side of the business so K-Tec could focus solely on designing and manufacturing scrapers for the agricultural and construction industries.

Although the 2009-10 global recession took the wind out of the company's sails, by 2011, demand for its products was on the rebound and the firm needed a bigger fabrication facility. That led to the construction of the new plant in Rosenort.

K-Tec now produces five models of scapers, ranging in size from 20 cubic yards to 54 cubic yards. The growing popularity of its products caught the attention of one of the world's largest dump-truck manufacturers -- Volvo Construction Equipment -- who last year entered into a strategic alliance with K-Tec to jointly market the scrapers with its dump trucks. The thinking is by packaging them together, they'll sell more of both, Kroeker said.

Kroeker, who is also president of the Rosenort Chamber of Commerce, said K-Tec is one of five flourishing manufacturers in the area. The others are Westfield Industries (augers and other grain-handling equipment), Midland Manufacturing (gravel trailers and truck bodies), Norstar Industries (grain-handling equipment and accessories), and Norvid Inc. (stainless steel storage tanks).

"Everybody seems to be hiring," he said. "We have a shortage of skilled labourers in town, for sure."

Rosenort isn't the only Red River Valley community facing that problem. Kelsey Paetzold, interim economic development officer for Winkler, said a number of Winkler companies are expanding and having trouble finding enough skilled workers.

The kinds of workers in demand include welders, painters, upholstery specialists, construction tradespeople and meat-processing-industry workers. "But mostly it's welders," Paetzold added.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2014 B5

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