Dennis Frank plans to arrive in Tanzania on Monday to inspect truck beds his Wyoming company, Mine Rite Technologies, made for a gold mine there.
While he’s on the business trip, he’ll dodge baboons on the road to the mine and a pesky, deadly green mamba snake that lives in the tree beside his quarters. And he’ll love it all.
Not only have Frank and his business partner, John D’Amico, chosen one of Wyoming’s charmed locations, Buffalo, for their manufacturing business, but they also sell their products internationally.
And that means travel to Africa, New Guinea and Australia, along with travel throughout the western United States.
They think they’ve discovered the sweet spot for setting up a manufacturing business in Wyoming in a town where it’s easy to attract workers.
“Everyone wants to live in Buffalo,” Frank said.
And they count the international business as another plus, as their employees do. All of the crew of 20-plus workers at Mine Rite have made the trek to overseas mines that use their products.
The workers earn what welders in the Powder River Basin do, Frank said. The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services website puts that yearly income as starting at $52,638 for no extra hours.
A more realistic figure is $75,000, which accounts for the 60- to 70-hour weeks that are normal. Supervisors are on a different pay scale.
The need for a stable workforce drove Mine Rite’s move to Buffalo seven years ago.
The two partners had started a business making tube-box truck bodies with a technology developed by D’Amico. They leased space near the Casper/Natrona County International Airport. But keeping employees was tough in a fevered energy market.
“We were part of the 2005-2008 treadmill when trades were in demand,” D’Amico said. “People would leave the job for a dollar (more an hour),”
The company competed with oil and gas and mine supply employers.
So Frank and D’Amico scouted Wyoming and chose Buffalo for their business. They like its location on two interstates, offering “shipping in all directions,” Frank said. They hoped the Buffalo community would attract workers who would stay, and they were right.
They currently have two employees who have been with them since the 2007 move. The majority are homeowners, and many have young families.
It’s the atmosphere they wanted for their business to solve the constant turnover challenges.
Mine Rite bills itself as the manufacturer of tube-box truck bodies. D’Amico invented the lightweight-truck-body technology, and he holds six other patents related to truck body design.
The advantage of his system, D’Amico said, is that they can be more flexible and are not dependent on supply shortages when steel plate is scarce. And they can change quickly.
Because of a mining downturn, D’Amico said, “mines aren’t buying new equipment. The money is in rebuilds.” His company is well-suited to rebuilds, he said.
Mine Rite also makes water tanks for dust suppression and other mining equipment. The Buffalo facility has been expanded and works “day and night,” according to Frank.
Building lightweight truck bodies has paid off for Mine Rite’s Africa clients, according to Frank.
“Converting to our lightweight design increased their productivity by 25 percent from when we first shipped three years ago,” he said.
Working in Africa
Once Frank completes his two-day trip beginning Monday and arrives in Tanzania, he’ll inspect the 165-ton and 260-ton truck bodies shipped to Africa three years ago.
What are the challenges of working in Africa? Language is one. Food is another, with meat scarce in a country Frank described as “starved for protein.”
He stays in a secured compound. But there was the night a worker went out on the porch to smoke a cigarette and stepped over a green mamba. The area is home to five of the deadliest snakes in the world.
Mine Rite employees regularly encounter two troupes of baboons, along with lemurs and howling monkeys. They don’t see the nocturnal leopards known to be in the area.
The work environment is unique. Among the challenges are local voodoo beliefs. Frank tells of a truck operator who had several accidents in one giant truck and was transferred from his job. The problem was that no one else would agree to drive the truck; they considered it cursed.
“The mine had to hire a witch doctor from the village to come and remove the curse before they could operate it again,” he said.
And then there are the grasshopper breaks. When swarms of locust-sized grasshoppers come through the region, trucks stop in the middle of the road so workers can scoop up the insects, which are considered delicacies.
By next week, Frank will be back at his office in Buffalo, sorting through new prospects for the company.
“Australia is a big market opportunity for us,” he said.
And when he goes there, he’ll have plenty of volunteers to be part of the crew.
“Employees are fighting to go to the field,” he said.