Turnarounds feed economy

By Geoff Lee

March 30, 2017 12:00 AM

EVERY TIME A REGISTER RINGS Jim Spenrath, owner of Rock Creek Tap & Grill expects a spike in business during nearly three months of Husky turnarounds starting in mid-April. His restaurant tables are equipped with USB ports for oil and gas workers on the go. GEOFF LEE LLS PHOTO

Ka-ching!
That happy cash register sound could be music to the ears of local merchants, particularly hotels and restaurants, anxious to experience the economic impact of upcoming Husky turnarounds.
Hundreds of well-paid, skilled tradespeople will spend millions of dollars during a four week turnaround at the Husky Asphalt Refinery starting April, followed by a seven week turnaround at the upgrader in the second quarter.
“We’re all happy for it for sure, it’s a good kick for the economy in a tough time,” said Jim Spenrath,  owner of Rock Creek Tap & Grill at the west end of the city.
“We’re certainly aware of it and, of course, with our Rock Creek location being adjacent to a couple of hotels, we will certainly see a lot of foot traffic throughout the summer,” he said.
Spenrath is also hearing adjacent hotels, like the Hampton Inn by Hilton and Meridian Inn & Suites, are gearing up for it as well.
“The timeline on it is fairly significant because it’s going to be the best part of three months for the main part of the turnaround,” said Spenrath.
In the last major turnaround, September 2014, Spenrath worked in the oil and gas sector and he recalled manpower being tight at the time.
“There were guys that got involved in the turnarounds and that tightened up the labour pool quite a bit,” he said.
“The irony of the economy that we’re in right now is that a lot of people are struggling to find labour.”
Spenrath said guys who own rigs (drilling and servicing) are having a really hard time finding good guys.
“It’s pretty significant, I think it surprises a lot of people to hear that,” he said.
The bulk of turnaround crews come from out of town, which is good news to Sonja Cuthbert, general manager of Days Hotel & Suite, who has been getting calls from companies for quotes.
“I guarantee we will take whatever we get right now,” said Cuthbert.
“It’s been a dismal two years; the turnaround for Husky is definitely a blessing.”
She said it’s one thing they can count on every two years or so, with this year being one of the largest ones.
“For Lloyd in general it’s going to impact the whole city, not just the hotels, because these teams coming in are going to be going shopping and going to food and beverage outlets and stuff like that,” she added.
She calls it a welcome event for the whole city.
Lloydminster Chamber of Commerce members are getting most of their news about the turnarounds from media coverage, but say they’re in the know about potential benefits from past experience.
“I know that from past turnarounds there’s direct impact to a lot of the commercial and industrial suppliers and service contractors and trades,” said chamber board member Rob Saunders.
“Typically with turnarounds, hotels and motels and restaurants and commercial operating entities do see some uptick from that, so it’s actually a good shot in the arm for the economy.”
Saunders noted there are job opportunities and supply opportunities with turnarounds, along with service opportunities.
He noted Husky’s always been a leader in our community with industrial developments with spinoffs from their industrial developments.
That includes Husky’s investment in their new thermal projects with increased oil production necessitating potential expansion to process that crude oil, including a plan to double the capacity of asphalt refining to 30,000 barrels per day.
“Husky’s long-term plan is to get into a position where they can lower their operating costs and get a greater return on investment,” said Saunders.
He said asphalt refining is a bit of a niche market that Husky has going for it.
One of Husky’s biggest cheerleaders is Ronnie Sanorja, GM of Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham,  just west of Husky Place.
He’s had several turnaround companies asking for room proposals.
“They’re looking for a standard and suite room and they are looking at booking X-number of rooms for a couple of months, which is good for the business for sure,” he said.
“We miss those days.”
He said they only get busy during this time of the year, especially with Husky helping them as the turnarounds will do.
“We are one of the only hotels on the east side,” said Sanorja.
“‘Most of the business we are hoping to get is from Husky, that’s for sure.”
He noted with higher occupancy, he’ll be able to give more hours to his staff that he’s kept intact throughout the downturn.
A similar scenario could play out at the Days Hotel depending on what they have on the books right now for the turnaround.
“Like any hotel we had a lot of people put down to part time, so they’ll definitely be getting more hours, which makes everyone happy,” said Cuthbert.
It seems the Canadian Brewhouse is one of the few businesses not depending on the turnaround for a cash life line.
“We haven’t really slowed down too much,” said Tyler Harvey, speaking for his partner and brother, Cord.
“The thing with us is, rain or shine people are drinking; we’re open to 2 a.m. and most places aren’t.”
Harvey said they are fully staffed already and can’t fit any more than they already do on their busiest nights.
“The turnaround will just make us more busy,” he said.
“We can’t really put any more servers on because you only have so many seats, the kitchen’s fully staffed.
“We’re the place to drink, so the turnaround will just fill ‘er right up.”

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