Futile search for GarCo site leads oil, gas welder to Fruita
To survive and thrive despite the local slowdown in drilling, a Western Slope oil and gas welding firm had to look outside Colorado for business.
To accommodate the resulting growth, it had to look outside Garfield County for a new location, which is why TWI Oilfield Fabrication recently moved from Rifle to Fruita, bringing nearly 30 jobs with it.
“We love the town of Fruita. We’re very excited to be here,” said Tina Holtz, the company’s sales and marketing director.
It’s not that the company was looking to leave Garfield County, she noted. It only began looking at Mesa County locations as an afterthought, after an exhaustive search for a large enough site with the proper zoning in Garfield County got it nowhere.
“I have to tell you, if it was there, we looked at it in Garfield County,” Holtz said.
She said the company realized it would have had to pursue a zoning change and what could have been a year-long process.
The company couldn’t afford to wait, after expanding to serve major oil and gas fields across the United States, from Pennsylvania to Utah and North Dakota to Texas.
It’s come a long way since company founder and longtime welder Todd Chamberlain was living in Riverton, Wyo., and did some work on drilling rig parts in 1998 at the behest of a friend.
When the rig moved to western Colorado, Chamberlain was asked to follow because of difficulties finding qualified local welders, Holtz said. He worked out of a truck and trailer and his sons, Brett and Kelly, cut steel for him back in his Riverton garage.
By 2001, the family moved to Garfield County. What was then called Todd’s Welding Inc. grew from a rented corner of a shop in west Rifle to the full shop in about a year’s time.
“Things were just going really well and the economy just grew,” Holtz said.
The company’s employment reached a 2008 peak of about 49 employees, but then came the slowdowns in local drilling and the overall economy, and it had to lay off numerous workers.
The company branched out into commercial and industrial structural work. But with that work slowing, too, Chamberlain decided to pursue oil and gas jobs where the industry was more active in other parts of the country.
“That diversification, going nationwide, is really what is our saving grace,” Holtz said.
The company also pursued some specialized certifications that let it manufacture pressure vessels, oil and gas separators and other pressure-retaining items, and do related repair work as well.
The company’s work in Rifle had become a challenge in a 2,500-square-foot space, and it even rented an outdoor yard where it was doing some jobs. But Holtz said it also was having to turn work away.
Now it has 10 times as much indoor space for fabricating everything from heater treaters and flowback equipment to mud systems, flare trailers and flare stacks. It also has an office and mechanics bay, all on 10 acres, and all for just 45 percent more rent.
The site is at 1560 River Road in the Greenway Business Park, at a site Halliburton previously leased for a hydraulic fracturing sand facility. A rail spur allows for convenient and cheaper shipping of steel, and TWI has four overhead cranes, a paint bay, and new equipment including a state-of-the-art sub arc welding system, a specialized circle cutting/welding machine and turning rolls that facilitate welding of vessels and other cylindrical products as heavy as 10 tons.
Today, Kelly, now 25, is operations manager and lead estimator for the company. About 90 percent of the employees have moved closer to the Fruita location. Holtz, Chamberlain and his wife, Vivian, are among those still living in Garfield County.
Holtz wonders if Garfield County’s zoning issues are one reason so many oil-and-gas-related companies are located in Mesa County, farther away from local drilling activity.
“They need to do something in Garfield County, definitely, there’s no doubt about it, because I believe they’ve lost a huge revenue source,” she said.
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said the company’s loss is significant.
“Thirty jobs is a real big deal for Rifle, especially, and for Garfield County,” he said.
Jankovsky, who has helped lead an effort to promote economic development in the county and streamline county processes to make them more business-friendly, acknowledged the zoning challenges that remain. He said there are only about five industrially zoned areas in the county. Creating more would have to take into account the views of neighbors, he said. Even within a current industrial-zoned area near Carbondale, the county is under pressure from many local residents to reject a proposed recycling and solid waste transfer station.
Meanwhile, seeking a zoning change can involve preparing a large packet of paperwork and paying lots of consultants for traffic, stormwater, wildlife and other studies and reports, Jankovsky said.
TWI avoided all of that with its recent move and isn’t looking back.
“This Fruita location is really wonderful for us,” Holtz said.