HUMBOLDT, Sask. - When Humboldt, Sask. recently surpassed a population threshold of 5,500 residents becoming the province's newest city, the news went largely unnoticed.However, now with trailer manuf...
FLASHY OPERATION: Doepker employees put together about 1,400 trailers each year at the Annaheim assembly plant. Photo by James Menzies
HUMBOLDT, Sask. – When Humboldt, Sask. recently surpassed a population threshold of 5,500 residents becoming the province’s newest city, the news went largely unnoticed.
However, now with trailer manufacturer Doepker Industries opening shop in town, outsiders are starting to take notice and are waking up to the fact Humboldt has joined the ranks of urban Saskatchewan.
Most of the company’s trailers are still being assembled at the Annaheim, Sask. plant just down the road, where the 350 workers who toil over each Doepker unit outnumber the entire population of Annaheim.
But the expansion into nearby Humboldt, at a time when industry is reeling from one knee-dropping economic blow after another, is exciting a lot of people.
Business specialist, Paul Martin, who spoke at the grand opening of the new facility, mused that employees can now tell confused U.S.-based customers who think the company is based in California, that they have outgrown Anaheim and are now moving to the bright lights of Humboldt.
The move is just one in a series of steps the company has made since Francis Doepker and his brothers designed their first trailer in 1948.
Now, with their children and grandchildren towing the line, the company is continuing to thrive in the face of adversity.
“It’s still family owned and operated,” points out Lionel Doepker, vice-president of sales and marketing.
And a quick glance around the new plant at the company’s 30th anniversary celebration proves it.
The name Doepker graces name tag after name tag, and some observers joke that it’s more of a family reunion than a corporate gathering.
But even those whose tags don’t sport the familiar name of Doepker are welcomed with warmth to the community that prides itself on being one big family.
Doepker’s marketing manager, Rod Ehalt, can attest to that. He says that the number of people turning out to visit the new facility and support the local hospital by purchasing barbecued sausages and soft drinks, was simply astounding.
“It was an excellent turnout,” says Ehalt. “We didn’t expect the numbers, it was overwhelming.”
He estimates the crowd to be between 700 and 800 people – or roughly 15 per cent of the population of Humboldt.
Dealers came from as far away as Ontario to be among the first to visit the plant. But, despite its continued growth, even the thriving trailer manufacturer isn’t immune to the economic slowdown that has plagued the trucking industry.
“We’ve had to pull back, especially on the commercial side of it,” admits Doepker. “From last year, we’re probably down in the 25 per cent range.”
Add to that the recent unionization of Doepker’s front-line workers, and some would question the company’s full-steam-ahead philosophy.
“It was a bit of a shock and an issue to work through, but it’s here now and a contract is in place and it’s a three-year contract so we’re comfortable with it and the employees are comfortable,” says Doepker of the unionization. “That’s all behind us and it’s a part of our business environment.”
For a company that turns out 1,400 trailers a year – about 50 per cent of which are destined for the grain hauling industry – there’s simply no time to slow down.
That’s why the company hopes to start production at the new plant as soon as possible.
“It depends a little bit on the orders that come in and how long the backlog is, but we anticipate (to begin production here) probably in the next three to six months,” says Doepker.
And for Humboldt mayor, Dennis Korte, that can’t come soon enough.
“It’s a real shot in the arm,” boasts Korte. “It gives us credibility. It’s another big company that people recognize when they drive through here.” n