Coal-dependent businesses fight to hold on, as industry shrinks
The price of coal continues climbing while natural gas is increasingly a more affordable alternative, leaving businesses dependent on the coal industry in a tight spot.
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Adapting to change "is not that easy. You can't just go out and say, "We're going to put something else on the mill," Duke said. "Steel in frack gas is not the kind of steel we make. We've started to get into the solar business, which competes somewhat with coal. We're a pioneer in making special shapes that go into solar farms. We're more into that now than the mining."Skip to next paragraph
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Those are being shipped out to places throughout North America, he said.
"We developed special lightweight sections easier for contractors to pound into the ground," he said. "We're the first ones who came out it with it. Others have followed, but we were the first ... about four years ago. It helped us during the downturn."
For Service Pump & Supply, there's been a little luck and a lot of strategy in coping with the changes in coal, said Vance, who founded the company 32 years ago. It now has 93 employees in four locations.
"We've always tried to diversify, No. 1, but it's very difficult in that no other companies use pumps like coal mines do," Vance said. "They'll use 10 times as many pumps as any plant we deal with. We have expanded into other industries, but ....we're still 70 percent coal mining industry. We've grown in the past 10 years, but it's still the same percent."
One good thing is that much of the coal in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky is metallurgical coal.
"As long as China and India and Russia (build), then they're going to need steel (that is made in metallurgical coal-fired plants), and we're going to be OK in those instances," Vance said.
That's a good example of how global the economy is these days.
"As small a company we are affected by what's going on in China, India, Brazil and any economy that is expanding and building and needing steel," he said.
Service Pump & Supply also is doing business with municipalities for sewage and water treatment plants, as well as power plants, Steel of West Virginia and chemical plants.
It's started manufacturing as well as distributing, and it does service as well.
A few years ago, the Mining Safety and Health Administration issued regulations for rock dust in coal mines to prevent explosions.
"It was perfect timing, and we came out with a new rock duster, and we were able to sell a great number of those," Vance said. "We've improved on that and come out with more models, and those have supplemented and kept people working."
In terms of service, Service Pump & Supply has just become the first pump company in the world to get a certification from the bearing company SKF Group. To this point, SKF has only certified motor companies.
"I'm proud that people see the kind of work that we can do," he said. "We could do nuclear power plants if we needed to it. ... We surprised them, I think, in a lot of the things we were doing already. But we had to do more documentation. Everything looks great, and I'm very proud of our people."
Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com
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