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Sault steel fabricator expands to second location

Major construction work at Algoma Steel, Tenaris spurs new shop construction for Steel Speed
Steel Speed involved in the structural work in converting the former Lowes store into a HomeSense-Winners outlet in the Sault (Company photo)

A booming construction scene in Sault Ste. Marie and the region has spurred a local steel fabrication company to expand its footprint.

Steel Speed Inc., headquartered in the Blue Heron industrial park in the city’s east end, will transfer part of its fabrication capability over to the west side by next year.

The company acquired a four-acre industrial property on Yates Avenue, close to Algoma Steel, in June. Its proposed 20,000-square-foot facility is now in the design stage.

General Manager Chris Rollin said they’re aiming for a spring construction start and about a six-month build.

The building’s proximity to Algoma and Tenaris, two major clients, will have some bearing on what’s equipment is installed inside. The existence of facility closer to those companies will play a role on what is fabrication activity takes place there.

The shop will house a new Ocean Avenger 40 CNC Beam Drill Line to provide more automated and streamlined structural fabrication process, Rollin said.

“It’s allowing us to be way more competitive for the structural steel compared to the old days of hand drilling,” he said. “You’d never be able to compete with these southern Ontario companies.”

In the big picture, Rollin said the decision to buy the extra acreage had much to do with increasing capacity, achieving better efficiencies, and being more competitive against other structural steel companies.

The expansion should create 20 to 25 new jobs and bring their current workforce of 175 closer to 200.

In a news release issued by the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Rollin stated this expansion “signifies our dedication to giving back and investing in the region’s growth.”

“It’s been very busy the last few years and we found we were limited in our capacity (to serve clients),” Rollin later said in an interview.

Check out their Facebook page and it's evident the company is involved in a myriad of local work with new retail, aqueduct repair, road rehabilitation, civil infrastructure works and even further afield in the mining sector. Over the winter, Steel Speed was involved in the structural work and decking installation for SMS Equipment’s new offices in Timmins.

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Closer to home, there’s been a mountain of structural work for their ironworkers in the last year on Algoma Steel’s electric arc furnace construction, and at Tenaris, which moved its welded pipe division from Calgary to the Sault.

“We’re seeing that projects are being pushed out because there’s not enough capacity for people to complete them,” said Rollin. “We used to price projects a few months down the road, now we’re pricing things a year down the road.”

Rollins is a co-owner of the company along with his brother-in-law Mauro Vallecorsa. Steel Speed was started by his father-in-law, Manuel Barros, in 1992. Rollin joined the firm in 2011.

The company began as a fabrication group, later adding more services with electrical, carpenter and civil works groups to offer customers a “full package,” said Rollin.

By way of recruiting and retaining skilled tradespeople, Rollin said they’ve managed to keep a good core group in place with not much turnover. But filling positions when people depart is “obviously a bit difficult.”

“The last few years we’ve had a steady workforce. We’re really not seeing much fluctuation, but when you have to fill positions it’s definitely a difficult process. There really isn’t too much out there. Some trades are worse than others.” 

When Rollin joined the company, many of its workforce was nearing retirement age but they’ve since replenished the ranks with young people, who’ve largely stayed put. “We don’t lose too many people and we have a fairly young group.”