Garett Cupples knows his way around an atlas.
His company, GenTex Oilfield Manufacturing Inc., has sent oilfield heating and pumping equipment to nearly 20 countries. In fact, exports have accounted for 30 to 50 per cent of his Red Deer company’s sales over the years.
“It can vary from one year to the next,” said Cupples.
GenTex is one of many Central Alberta companies that compete on the international stage, with their business dealings many and varied.
“Exact numbers are hard to come by but the vast majority of companies we deal with are either exporting their products and services, or have a supply chain that includes international suppliers,” said Matt Cornall, investment attraction officer with Central Alberta: Access Prosperity.
Some, like High Arctic Energy Services Inc., have even planted their feet on foreign ground. The Red Deer company operates drilling and workover rigs in Papua New Guinea, a country it’s been active in since 2007.
“We tried some other countries and we found that Papua New Guinea was a nice niche market for us,” said Dennis Sykora, High Arctic’s CEO.
Many Central Alberta businesses with international connections are leaders in the energy sector, said Cornall. That makes their products and services valuable in countries where oil and gas resources are being developed.
But there are examples in other industries as well. Some deal in agricultural products, from food commodities to livestock genetics. Others specialize in more obscure items.
Sylvan Lake’s Fiber-Werx International Inc. has shipped waterslide components to countries as diverse as Brazil, Italy, Taiwan and Australia.
“All over the world,” summed up Fiber-Werx owner Scott Getschel.
Cornall said the United States remains the primary destination for Central Alberta products and services, but emerging markets in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe are attracting increasing interest from local entrepreneurs.
One of the big benefits of dealing internationally is diversification, agreed Cupples, Sykora and Getschel.
“It balances out the cycles,” said Sykora, whose company’s other operations are in Canada. “It’s challenging and it’s hard work, but it does provide better rates of return.”
Getschel said Fiber-Werx is looking to export other products, most notably a tonneau cover for trucks that the company has been selling in Canada for years.
“We’ve actually had calls from all over the world on that product.”
International trade does create challenges, with different cultures, languages and regulations to deal with.
“Nothing moves fast over there,” said Cupples of some of the countries GenTex is active in. “It can be painful.”
He described the challenge of finding fittings for a tank in Kazakhstan.
“It took two days for us to get the information to the right people to get the fittings made in a machine shop to put onto the tank. Here, we could have had it done in the afternoon.”
In India, Gentex has spent the past 2 1/2 years working on a contract with a state-owned oil company for $60,000 worth of parts.
“You can imagine, there’s not a lot of margin in that,” said Cupples of the time and resources devoted to this work.
He said it helps to have on-the-ground support in the countries you’re dealing in, and a reliable translator. Gentex also tries to send staff who have the patience and skills to deal with strange cultures.
Human resources is also important for High Arctic’s Papua New Guinea operations.
“You have to attract very good people who are capable of operating in that remote location and repairing the rigs without all of the support services available,” said Sykora. “It’s very challenging, but we’ve had good success.”
Cornall said the Alberta and Canadian governments deserve credit for helping domestic companies access new markets.
“The Department of International and Intergovernmental Relations has a wealth of knowledge and contacts that are at the disposal of our companies who are seeking to engage with global markets. When this is added to excellent trade commissioners service provided by the government of Canada, or from Crown corporations such as Export Development Canada, it is not surprising that more and more of our companies are feeling confident to explore global market opportunities.”
Last year, Alberta announced a new international strategy that included the creation of a Small- and Medium-sized Enterprise Export Council to provide recommendations. International and Intergovernmental Relations Minister Cal Dallas named Cupples chair of that council.
Cupples said the province’s commitment to trade is encouraging.
“We’re an exporting country and an exporting province.”