Firm in tiny Sask. town flourishing with Filipino workers

A farm equipment manufacturer in the tiny town of Frontier, Sask., says hiring immigrants from the Philippines has been a key to its success.

Honey Bee Manufacturing has hired 35 from the Philippines

A farm equipment manufacturer in the tiny town of Frontier, Sask., says hiring immigrants from the Philippines has been a key to its success.

In recent years, Honey Bee Manufacturing has filled 35 jobs at its Frontier combine header plant from the Philippines — just under 20 per cent of its workforce. 

Among those immigrants is Esteban de La Cruz, who moved to the community in the southwest corner of the Prairie province with his family in 2008 and now works, along with wife Elvie, at Honey Bee.

New arrivals from the Philippines are a regular feature in Frontier, and De La Cruz says he likes to personally welcome them with a party that includes food, drink and karaoke.  

"Those Filipinos who have just arrived are well-adjusted because they can see already some Filipinos, which is different than when I first came to Frontier," he said. 

"It's nice to live here, especially if your kids are young," he added. "It is very quiet and very peaceful. Almost all people know each other and people greet you with a smile. You don't worry about your kids getting hurt."

Honey Bee's recruitment drive, aimed at the Philippines, has been underway since 2008.

The company's human resources manager, Henry Fehr, said Honey Bee needed engineers, welders and assembly line workers but could not find enough of them in Western Canada.

"What happened for us is when [Canadian workers] find out where we are, they just won't come," Fehr explained. "We're 100 miles from the nearest traffic light. 100 miles from the nearest Wal-mart. 100 miles from the nearest Tim Hortons."

Honey Bee is using the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program to bring workers to the province.

Fehr said it's an eight-months long process to bring families to Frontier. When they arrive, he said, they have the status of a landed immigrant and can begin the process of becoming Canadian citizens, if they choose.

Many workers also bring family members with them, ready to start a new life.

"When you go to an airport and you meet a mother, a father and say three children and they've got three suitcases — for their entire life — that's a unique challenge," Fehr said.

"We help them establish a new life," he added. "We give them furniture. We help to get vehicles ... all those sorts of things."

Honey Bee is also renting some apartments and duplexes in Frontier so that Filipino families have a place to stay. the company is also helping out with the first few months of rent.

While the firm has spent some money to build the workforce it needs hiring from the Philippines has paid off, according to general manager Brad Nelson.

"I don't know how we would continue to exist today, doing the manufacturing that we're doing, at the level we're doing it all, without them," Nelson said. "I don't think we could, quite frankly."

Nelson notes, with pride, that Honey Bee is a market leader in combine headers adding their products are sold worldwide.

With files from Eric Anderson


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