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Tulsa steel company booming during oil downturn

Posted at 6:16 PM, Jan 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-28 07:27:43-05

With a massive oil derrick standing inside its workshop, Tulsa Steel Services history is on display. Owner David Smith said the company has been producing steel parts for oil rigs for 30 years.

But even though the price for oil remains low and many oil related companies have laid off employees, sparks are flying inside Smith's shop as workers are busying filling orders. None of the jobs, though, are for oil parts.

"Zero," Smith said. "I call everybody. 'David we know who you're, we know where you're at, we just don't have any work right now."

As the price of oil plummeted in 2015, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reported this week 12,200 people in oil and gas jobs were laid off. That layoffs marked a 20 percent drop in oil and gas employment levels from 2014.

Another 8,900 employees in manufacturing roles lost their jobs. The employment security commission reported many of those jobs were tied to the oil and gas industry. 

At Tulsa Steel Services, Smith needed to let go of two-thirds of his employees.

"Last year at this time we had about 15 people," he said. "Scaled down to about five right now." 

But even with oil prices sitting at $32 a barrel Wednesday, Smith is hoping he can soon hire back the employees he let go and then possibly expand beyond 15 employees.

His company is booming again thanks to a change in product focus, with a tip of the hat to the oil industry.

"We actually use this as the damper," Smith said while turning a replica oil derrick attached to a barbecue smoker. "You can open and close it by spinning it, but that is kind of where we come from. The oil industry."

Recently Tulsa Steel Services made its first custom barbecue smoker and it quickly became the company's new number one selling product. 

"We just started building them and it has been a tremendous success," Smith said. 

Tulsa Steel Services has sold the smokers to restaurants and individuals throughout Tulsa. 

With 35 years of experience making steel products for oil companies, making smokers out of steel is the reason Ted Martin said he is still employed today.

"It is a job and its getting me a paycheck, I appreciate Dave going out and hustling, finding these little jobs," Martin said while working at Tulsa Steel Services Wednesday. 

Now Smith said his company is profitable, as other oil related companies are still waiting to rebound after orders from oil companies dried up.

"Literally the faucet has turned off and there has been hardly any work," Smith said of oil related jobs. "The work that is out there now there are four or five companies like myself. We are all bidding on that same job."

When the oil industry turns around, his dream now is that he will once again make oil rig parts, as well as custom smokers.

"You're turning me on here," he said. "You're talking about all of this work, everyone wants that. If we can get that kind of working coming in, at the same time if we can make money making smokers that is what we will do."

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