Debra Ross is president and CEO of Gamma-Tech Inspection Ltd.
Calgary’s Business: Tell me about your company. When was it formed? How many employees do you have? What does the company do?
Ross: Gamma-Tech Inspection Ltd. was incorporated July 15, 2002. It has successfully provided a wide spectrum of non-destructive testing services to the oil and gas and construction industries ever since. We provide industrial radiography, magnetic particle, liquid penetrant, ultrasonic, GPR scanning (to name a few) in a variety of locations such as fabrication shops, plant facilities, pipelines and downtown buildings.
Some notable and fun specialty inspections we carried out, include X-ray on a pre-samurai sword, fire damage investigation X-ray and even the determination of what the internal structure of the original Centre Street Bridge lions look like.
Our employee count ranges depending on peak season or otherwise. We have had up to 26 employees but being an on-demand service-based company, there can be extreme fluctuations. Over the past two years, we have dropped to less than half of that yet operating at capacity.
CB: Can you describe the impact the recession in Alberta had on your company?
Ross: During the 2008-2009 downturn, we were very fortunate to have been effected only slightly while so many others succumbed to the lack of work brought on by project halts and the such. The same cannot be said for the past two years. We have had to let go of some long-term core staff members due to the rising costs of supplies, taxes, fuel and demand from larger corporations for lower rates, resulting in razor-thin profit margins for service providers.
The recession has had a far-reaching impact on a diverse cross-section of Alberta industry, not just the oil and gas sector. Restaurants, retail, auto services industries, all feeling the ripple effects of local and global changes. I have seen other small business owners going through tough times as well and some not having the resources to keep going. A tough pill to swallow.
CB:How are things today for you?
Ross: With the economic climate of the past few years, it has been a struggle to adjust. After almost 16 years, having to re-evaluate everything from the ground up was a harsh reality. Fortunately, with much effort, the appropriate adjustments have been implemented to better operate in this new financially-tight environment. Ego has no place in survival and it is humbling to take a step back and regain focus.
In our streamlining, our gross income was allowed to drop in exchange for a higher net income/profit. The exercise to dig in and preserve the good in our company has brought us to a new better reality. One that is forged of much less stress, safety excellence plateaus like we have not reached before, more efficiency/less waste, content staff and a general overall feeling of pride.
With each recession, one can give up and fade away, or rise to the challenge and become a stronger, better positioned company. We chose the latter.
CB:What are the biggest challenges you face today as a small business owner in Alberta?
Ross: In any market, particularly a soft market, there are a handful of big challenges small business faces. From finding and retaining qualified, loyal employees to keeping up with the ever-rising operating costs versus client expectations. We recognize that it is our responsibility to provide the best possible service at a fair and equitable price and strive daily to accomplish this. Though the mounting pressures from excessive taxes on the middle class, small businesses, ever-rising fuel costs and negative political posturing against Canadian industry makes it tough for any small business to keep the doors open.
When, as a country, we are in recession mode, having the capital and cash flow to operate effectively is certainly one of the most challenging issues a business owner faces.
The ever-present unknowns of government decision-making is always a wildcard and another huge risk put on the shoulders of small business. The challenges can be frustrating, overwhelming and sometimes be the tipping point to a business failing. Governments on all levels should be working with business, not against.
CB: What are your thoughts about government – at all three levels? What do they need to do to support small business?
Ross: My thoughts are that all three levels of government, municipal, provincial and federal are lagging behind in understanding the importance of small business.
Federally, they are giving away millions to bail out large corporations on a yearly basis, effectively keeping them from bankruptcy. Not that I advocate for a corporate welfare environment, but the playing field needs to be equalized. Meanwhile, small businesses and their owners are being taxed higher than ever in history, including corporate taxes, GST, the now over-inflated carbon tax and cost of living. These are just some examples. In the 2016 budget, the small business tax rate on the first $500,000 was dropped a mere half per cent while far more taxes were levied elsewhere. So not a win here either.
Ultimately, causing financial hardship to small business hurts all Canadians since there are over 3.5 million small businesses that account for the majority of jobs.
For starters, I would propose to revamp the equalization payments to more fairly reflect Alberta’s contributions, get rid of the carbon tax, work on less stringent interprovincial trade rules and stop with the excess protectionism. Have the federal government enforce its legislation on such issues as the Trans Mountain pipeline. Provincial governments must respect the laws as set out federally whether they like it or not. All the inter-provincial squabbling is a huge blow to the overall Canadian economy, specifically when it comes to investment in our country.
With all the negatives on how the different government parties at all levels are currently running our country, in comparison to others countries in the world, I would still pick Canada to live. Hands down.
– Mario Toneguzzi
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