Getting their sea legs
Harbour Grace firm sews up contract to make navy boots
Terra Kodiak has signed a $6.1 million contract with the Department of National Defence to make 42,500 pairs of sea boots for the Canadian Navy.
David Gill, general manager of the Harbour Grace shoe plant, said the company will begin to fill the order this week.
At the rate of about 300 pairs per day, Gill said, filling the order should keep them busy until next May or June.
He said four or five of the workers laid off in April were called back to work on this project.
The company laid off 59 workers on April 29, citing a significant decline in orders from the federal government, combined with a drop in demand for work boots during the economic recession.
That layoff came just a couple of years after the company expanded when it won its first contract to supply boots to the Canadian Forces. That contract expired in May.
The downsizing also came almost two years after the provincial government provided the company with an $8-million interest free loan to help it expand and hire 50 new workers.
Gill also noted 14 or 15 of the people who had worked on the old contract using an older process of making boots, were trained in the new, hightech process that will be used to make the new boots. The plant manager said they would have been laid off had they not secured this latest contract.
Between 20 and 25 people " will work on this project," he said. That's about a quarter of the Harbour Grace plant's current workforce of 96.
He said they plan to make some other commercial product next spring, which should help extend the work time for employees.
The defence department will be calling tenders in the future to make footwear for the various branches of the Canadian Forces, including the navy, army and air force.
" We're pretty busy now and we think we have a good crack at other contracts," he said.
Asked if any other people would be re-hired if they are successful in landing other defence department work in the future, he said, "it depends on the size of the contract. It's really too early to tell."
The new boots Terra will be turning out for the navy are 25 per-cent lighter than the traditional steel-toe style. The uppers are made with leather and ballistic nylon, the same material used to make bullet-proof vests. They also feature a lightweight rubber sole and polyurethane mid sole with a composite toe using a keular plate in place of steel.
"The material is almost indestructible," Gill noted.
He said the slip resistance built into the sole makes the new boot ideal for wearing around slippery decks of ships.
He said defence department officials have told them the special rubber used in the soles provided the best slip resistance they've seen.
"Designers here in Harbour Grace and at our Ontario facility worked on the design for the new boots," Gill pointed out.
Following a tour of the area of the Harbour Grace plant where the boots will be made, last week Senator Fabian Manning said, "whether they're serving in the cold Arctic or the hot Persian Gulf, Canadian sailors will be wearing these top-of-the-line boots made right here in Newfoundland and Labrador."
Suggesting the contract, "should be of great benefit to this community and region," Manning noted, "there are a few other contracts in the works and we hope to see a follow-up to this one."
Carbonear-Harbour Grace MHA Jerome Kennedy said he was pleased to see the federal government helping out the local operation by awarding this contract, which will help secure "a number of good, high-paying jobs in the area, especially considering the ups and downs in the industry."
National Defence Minister Peter MacKay said in a press release the new sea boots are being made under the "Naval Improved Clothing and Equipment (NICE) project."
The initiative "aims to improve the clothing ensemble issued to sailors to ensure they are properly equipped for domestic and international operations in all geographical and climatic conditions," MacKay said.
The minister said the new sea boots will provide the navy with "common operational footwear suitable for both shore and at sea duties."
Workers at the Harbour Grace plant will start turning out the boots this week, and the first shipment should be ready for the navy in two to three weeks.
Founded in the early 1970s, Terra Nova Shoes rose from the ashes of the former Kosh Shoes Ltd.
It remains the only surviving operation from a string of manufacturing plants and factories that dotted Conception Bay during the 1950s as part of former premier Joey Smallwood's plan to industrialize the province.