Welder moving to Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake Mayor Susan Samson helped pull a houseboat out of the water last fall, and ended up landing a major business for her community.

Sylvan Lake Mayor Susan Samson helped pull a houseboat out of the water last fall, and ended up landing a major business for her community.

Rick The Welder Inc. is relocating from Red Deer to the former KGH Mechanical Systems premises in Sylvan Lake — a move that owner Rick Lawson said was prompted in large part by Samson.

He described how he was struggling to remove his 43-foot houseboat from the lake and put it onto a trailer.

“The next thing I knew, somebody was reaching out to help hold the boat and wasn’t afraid to get her feet wet.

“She was in the water wading around, and giving me a hand to get things loaded.”

A conversation about the boat ensued, followed by introductions and the realization by Lawson that it was the head of Sylvan Lake’s municipal government who had just helped him wrestle his boat from the water.

“That’s pretty cool.”

Lawson said he had long thought the resort community might be a nice alternative to Rick The Welder’s shop in Red Deer’s Edgar Industrial Park. His encounter with Samson prompted him to explore the option, with a little nudging from the mayor.

“I knew at that point that KGH had vacated their premises,” said Samson.

Lawson has since concluded that his business will enjoy lower property costs and taxes in Sylvan Lake, and might also benefit on the labour front. He explained that prospective employees in town may be more likely to work for and remain with him than commit to a daily commute to Red Deer.

Samson said she’s “thrilled” with her town’s new corporate citizen, which will help diversify the local economy.

“We’re more of a service community, with retail and restaurants.”

Rick The Welder’s construction resumé includes the Millennium Centre addition, Ronald McDonald House and the RCMP detachment building in Red Deer, as well as distant projects like another RCMP building in Fort McMurray and schools in Grande Prairie, Calgary and Vauxhall.

“We do between $3 million and $5 million a year,” said Lawson, adding that his payroll ranges from about 22 to 24 employees.

He now expects to source everything from building supplies to fuel in Sylvan Lake, and thinks many of his workers will relocate with their employer.

“The boys are out here buying houses and renting places,” said Lawson, who has purchased a 25-acre farm just outside town himself.

At approximately 10,500 square feet, the KGH Mechanical building is about 4,000 square feet smaller than Rick The Welder’s Red Deer shop. But a planned expansion will change that, said Lawson.

The houseboat that set the wheels in motion was fabricated by Rick The Welder’s staff. Lawson initiated the project to keep his workers active when business was slow.

“In 14 years, I’ve never laid anybody off,” he said.

“It started out at 26 feet, and now it’s 43.”

Samson said she’s pleased with whatever role she played in Rick The Welder’s move.

“I feel that’s the job of the mayor. You’ve always got to be listening and keep your ear to the ground.”