It was this time a year go we were checking in with Saskatchewan businesses to see how the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic were affecting them. Some had turned their attention to new lines of businesses borne of immediate need, others were seeing business skyrocket as people stayed close to home, and others were waiting to see if decisions they made were going to pay off. We checked in on three ventures—from diverse industries—to see how things are going a year into pandemic life.
A year ago, we talked with Biomed, a biohazardous waste disposal and management service company for Saskatchewan’s hospitals, health care centres and medical clinics. Back then, they were among the few organizations ready for the pandemic because of their line of business. Among its many preparations, Biomed made the move to bring the molds for its products to Canada from China and start manufacturing locally. It was a risky and expensive move, and they were concerned about condition of the molds on arrival. “We had a 15-year relationship with our supplier,” says Cam Willett, vice-president of sales and marketing for Biomed. “The molds weren’t in the best shape, which is part of the problem when you’re dealing with a company that’s across the world. You have no real mechanism for quality control.”
However, Biomed handed the molds over to their new manufacturer in Saskatchewan and got to work producing their plastics locally. The company had to source the appropriate resin, which has been tougher to acquire due to the pandemic. Plus, Biomed also had to find a company to handle work on the molds themselves—which they sourced in nearby Saskatoon.
Biomed’s needle disposal containers and other plastic products are now made here—and their sharps containers are now in use at every COVID-19 clinic in the province. The customer’s cost difference due to the manufacturing change to the customer has been negligible and being local is more convenient for everyone involved. “Now, if I need 500 containers for a customer, the production is two weeks, compared to the three months lead time we had with our overseas supplier. Shipping time, duty and customs are no longer issues,” says Willett. “And, if I need to meet with someone, it’s a short drive or quick phone call to someone in the same province as me.”
Possibly best of all, Biomed knows they are directly helping the Saskatchewan economy. “Manufacturing products here means more local jobs for local people,” says Willett. “We know our work is directly benefitting our communities and that is a great thing.”
Drake Meats, Drake
The town of Drake is home to Drake Meats, a fourth-generation family business that produces craft meat products such as sausage, bacon, burgers, jerky and more. The company is in expansion stage, with its eyes on the Western Canadian market. Over the last two years, Drake Meats has added to its facility footprint, leasing new space in Saskatoon, and prepared to wow consumers in Alberta, British Columbia, and Manitoba with its locally sourced and processed meat products. And then COVID hit.
The company saw an opportunity as consumers raced to embrace locally made foods and online shopping. “We saw customers’ appetite for Canadian food and ways to easily get it,” says Tyson Ediger, Drake Meats’ marketing manager. “That would lead to us to our newest product offering.”
Last fall, Drake Meats launched ‘Jerky in a Box,’ offering both gift boxes and jerky subscriptions to meat lovers across the country. Drake’s jerkies, made with 100 per cent Canadian beef, were a big hit during the holiday season, and saw the company shipping their Saskatchewan-made products across the country. “Our Jerky in a Box introduced Drake Meats to Canada,” says Ediger. “Online shopping and people’s desire to support local has opened up big opportunities for us.”
It was just a few days into the pandemic when RMD Engineering Inc. president Jim Boire was presented with a challenge from his daughter Rebecca who is an ICU nurse in Saskatoon. The news was full of stories about ventilator shortages, and she was seeing first-hand how vital ventilators would be during the pandemic. “She texted me about the issue, and I thought how hard could it be?” says Boire. “I decided it was a way I could do my part.”
Boire set to work on March 18, devising how he and his company could build a ventilator that could fill the need. It had to be mobile and durable, with as few moving or hard-to-source parts as possible. He assembled expert help from health care, and by March 24 he had a working model to present to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).
With a team of experts from the University of Saskatchewan and help from SHA, RMD Engineering would continue to refine the idea into what would become the EUV-SK1 ventilator and launch its subsidiary One Health Medical Technologies. The company also wound its way through Health Canada approvals, and in December announced it would deliver 100 units to SHA.
One Health Medical Technologies is not stopping at ventilators, either. Boire sees more health care innovation in his future. “We have so many resources and experts here like the University of Saskatchewan, the Western College of Veterinary Medicine and VIDO-Intervac, for example,” he says. “We have to get back to what we do best, which in this case is advancing health care technology and manufacturing. Saskatchewan is full of innovative people and ideas. We can do way more here than we’re doing. It’s time to just do it.”