New oil-gear companies come to Montana amid boom

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — Montana counties are increasingly seeing new oil equipment companies lay down roots as they seek to supply energy projects including those in Alberta’s Kearl tar sands north of the Canadian border.

The Great Falls Tribune reports economic development officials are recruiting businesses that supply energy-producing operations, not just the energy producers themselves.

For instance, Quebec-based ADF Group announced plans for a 100,000-square-foot facility near Great Falls. It aims to make oil-production modules and target customers in the Alberta oil sands.

Brett Doney, president of the Great Falls Development Authority, says his region’s proximity to the massive Canadian energy development gives it a competitive advantage. Central Canada’s workforce is limited, he said, and there are potential tax advantages to companies basing their operations in the United States.

“We’ve been able to offer incentives for financing and workforce training,” Doney said. “Our business climate is attractive. And we are now getting inquiries from a whole variety of companies looking at the energy service market, from distribution to supply folks. It’s a great position to be in.”

Other companies to target the area include Alabama-based Yates Construction, which plans to make equipment for oil pipe racks near Bynum.

And Lauren Engineers and Constructors of Texas also opened an assembly facility in Bynum earlier this year.

Spokesman Jody Lee expects Lauren to deliver its first shipment of modular oil field equipment to the oil sands in Alberta during the first quarter of 2013.

The employment boost to the region is clear: Lauren employs about 25 people in all, for instance; pay starts at about $12 an hour to about $32 an hour, and the companies say they’ll offer a suite of benefits and retirement packages.

Though companies are trying to get their operations as close to the Canadian border as possible — to cut down on the distance to the Alberta tar sands — they still aim to be close enough to more-urban areas such as Great Falls in order to tap their larger labor pools.

Yates Constructors vice president Bill King says he doesn’t want to have to import labor from elsewhere, because that could add to costs and other challenges.

“We chose Bynum because it is about as north as you can go and still be within commuting distance to Great Falls,” said Yates’ King. “I will tell you we are counting on local people for our labor.”

That’s potential good news to Montana residents who have relocated to the Bakken oil extraction projects in North Dakota.

They’re now inquiring about possibilities to work closer to home, said Sarah Converse, director of Sweetgrass Development, an economic organization for northcentral Montana that is working closely with Yates.