Don Barnet worked 12 years for General Motors, buying and installing the equipment needed to assemble cars in an Ontario plant, until one day, the manufacturing engineer realized he should set up his own shop.
“I found that a lot of equipment out there could be improved, and as I learned to make it better and make it work, I felt like I should just go into business and build equipment for a living,” says Don from the premises of Steelworks Design, the company he founded in 2002 and manages with wife Rhonda.
Steelworks got its first big contract from Honda in 2003 and initially catered to the car industry until the 2008 automotive downturn forced the Peterborough-based firm to widen its client base to the food and beverage, pharmaceutical, general manufacturing and energy sectors.
Family-run business caters to industrial giants
It now employs 27 skilled trades and engineers, and supplies specialized tooling and equipment to the likes of General Electric (GE), Siemens, Rolls Royce and Coca-Cola – making it a true success story of small Ontario entrepreneurship whose benefits extend well beyond the walls of the family-run business.
“We’re a company that goes outside of Peterborough, finds contracts and brings work back here,” Rhonda Barnet says. “We have a strong local supply base that provides our steel, our raw materials and all the parts that go into the equipment we build. So, when we get a project, it’s not just us, it’s not just a few people here. It’s all our suppliers who come together and build the product.”
Steelworks started working with GE in 2011, so when TransCanada chose the GE Peterborough plant in November 2014 to build 85 customized electric motors for the Energy East Pipeline Project, Don and Rhonda immediately saw the opportunity this would represent for their company.
“Very directly, Energy East is going to bring jobs to General Electric but GE will need new tools and new equipment to build those motors and they are going to look at companies like ours to build those tools,” Don says. “We’ll in turn look at our suppliers and they’ll look at their own suppliers so it’s really a trickledown effect.”
Indirect contract, direct benefits
Rhonda estimates Energy East will create several new jobs at Steelworks as the project generates activity for GE’s entire supply base in and around Peterborough.
“Projects like Energy East bring direct high-value jobs to our community,” she says. “It is important to note that when a project of this magnitude moves forward, not only will multinationals like GE and TransCanada create direct jobs in Ontario, but these companies work locally with small businesses like Steelworks. This is a great story for Ontario manufacturing.”
$30 million already spent with Ontario business to develop Energy East
While the Energy East Pipeline Project goes through regulatory review, TransCanada is making headway with the development plans of the pipeline that will connect Alberta and Saskatchewan oil to the refineries of Eastern Canada and a marine terminal in New Brunswick. TransCanada has already spent more than $30 million in Ontario with local businesses to support the project’s development. And this is just a start.
We work hand in hand with top Canadian companies, and their own suppliers, to make this multi-billion-dollar infrastructure project a reality, and help us deliver on our promise to build a world-class pipeline that will safely transport the energy Canadians need.