By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: June 2, 2012
A hard-working certified welder would pull in a decent pay cheque anywhere in Canada.
In Alberta, and particularly in the oil rigs, you can make twice, even thrice, of what welders would make anywhere else.
But money wasn’t the only thing that drove David Friesen and his partner Dyan Santos.
This Edmonton couple left it all behind, took a considerable wage cut, and moved to a place they had fallen in love with ever since they visited it a few years ago.
You have heard of couples who move to Squamish, and then they have to commute to Vancouver or Whistler for work.
Friesen and Santos moved to Squamish to work in high paying jobs here, to play in the great outdoors here.
Friesen is an avid mountain biker, and Santos loves mountain climbing.
It’s what keeps them here, despite the wage cut, although they are still making more than an average Squamish salary.
It’s a flashback of the past, when well-paying forest, mill, and rail jobs were close to home, enabling people to build a close-knit community.
Friesen and Santos are also a promise of the future.
A non-decrepit building at the outer end of the Industrial Park provides a glimpse into that future.
Inside the cavernous building, welding machines whir and hiss and tiny sparks fly.
It’s been almost one year since Combustion Solutions Inc., manufacturers of burners and pipes, moved their production to Squamish.
Proximity to their main engineering office in Squamish, a deep-water, break-bulk terminal, and lower wages than Alberta brought the company to Squamish.
Both Friesen and Santos jumped at the chance to work in Squamish.
Friesen had visited Squamish several times for mountain biking. Last year, he also brought his partner Santos along.
“Squamish is so beautiful, and we love it here,” Santos says.
There are nine certified welders working at the Combustion plant, and they make anywhere from $16 to $35 an hour.
It’s a highly specialised kind of welding work, Friesen says, and the company has struggled to find the right kind of workers in Squamish.
“The biggest issue we have faced is getting the right labour,” says Victor Tavares, one of the employees.
As a result, the manufacturing shop in Industrial land also functions as a training school for welders.
Friesen hopes the production will expand, which will enable the company to buy more from local suppliers and create more well-paying jobs.
If that happens, Friesen said he will volunteer to pass on his skills to local high school students so they don’t have to leave Squamish for work.
It’s been almost one year since Combustion started operations in Squamish, but they have yet to hear from the district.
Friesen said no councillors or economic development officer has visited the facility to ask how the district can help.
“You are the first one to come here,” Tavares says, laughing.
They have also run into a bureaucratic glitch with the federal government refusing visa to engineers from Korea to install a machine.
The company’s top brass is hoping to get the issues resolved with help from local MP John Weston.
Despite some of the challenges, Friesen is hopeful the company will expand in Squamish.
Last weekend the couple hiked the Chief, one among the many adventures which reinforces their desire to live in town.
“We came here for the lifestyle, and we would love to make Squamish our home,” Friesen says.