Oil And Gas Industry Slowdown Impacts Business In Fort Smith

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FORT SMITH (KFSM)--Dropping oil prices may be helping your budget, but the slowdown in the industry isn't benefiting everyone -- including some local businesses.

“I think 2016 probably is going to be the most challenging year that I`ve ever experienced, and I`ve been here since 2001,” Grant Pruitt said.

Pruitt has been the president and CEO of his family’s business since 2011, after Pruitt Tool & Supply Co. in Fort Smith got its start back in 1958.

In March of last year, the company made its first round of layoffs after the downturn of the oil and gas industry.

“We provide drilling equipment to the oil and gas industry, what's called a rotating control device,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt said that device  is vital to oil rigs and the entire drilling process.

“Everybody`s looking for ways to cut costs and to still be able to continue to drill,” he said. “Some people are have just basically said, 'Well we`re not drilling until things change.'”

Pruitt said at the company's highest point, in 2014, they had around 105 employees. Now they’re down to 73.

“That`s the worst part of my job,” he said. "Having to look somebody in the eye whom I`ve been dealing with for 15 years and say, 'You know, unfortunately we don`t have a spot for you right now.' That's a difficult thing to do.”

The Fort Smith Adult Education Center offers classes to help workers who've been laid off.

“Back when Whirlpool laid off, we had over 200 [people],” Nichelle Christian said. “Those numbers have gone down some, but we're still able to assist those dislocated workers. We have people from all over the community utilize the services that we offer.”

Pruitt said the national rig count has dropped 73 percent since its high at the end of 2014.

“We`re above that curve,” Pruitt said. “We`re doing better than that, but it`s been a different transition for sure.”

He said he believes companies affected by the industry’s downturn that don’t have a lot of debt will be the ones who are able to pull through. More layoffs at Pruitt Tool are possible down the road, but Pruitt thinks there will be a gradual turnaround come 2017.

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