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(October 2012) posted on Tue Nov 06, 2012

In Yellowknife, Signed delivers digital printing to Canada’s far north.

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By Mike Antoniak

That adds to the cost of doing business, and cost of printed products. “Our prices are probably half to two-thirds higher than what they would be in other places.”

Then there’s the weather. Yellowknife sits on the shores of Great Slave Lake just about 250 miles from the Arctic Circle. The typical winter here would rank among the harshest anywhere else. January’s average dips down to -17 Fahrenheit (F), and temperatures plunging as low as -40F are not uncommon. With this type of chill, the area is a semi-desert; annual precipitation is less than 12 inches. What falls as snow, lingers for months.

During the worst of the winter, freezing of the MacKenzie River forces closure of Highway 3 late January through April. It’s temporarily replaced by a three-lane throughway for transportation over the frozen river once featured on the History Channel’s hit series, “Ice Road Truckers.” The icy passage ensures a flow of essential supplies to the city and mines in NWT, but at considerable cost.

“We have to make sure we pre-order all the print materials we might need before the freeze,” says Pacey. “We have to have enough on hand to get us through the winter months.”

The chill season brings both challenges and opportunities. “Installations can be difficult outside in the winter months, but we’re all used to the cold and equipped to work in it.” If a winter order calls for installing a vehicle wrap or applying vinyl decals, work proceeds inside a heated building.

Once applied, the vinyl adheres when exposed to the cold, but it takes a beating. “We get a lot of repeat customers and re-orders,” Pacey notes. Because of the prolonged sub-zero temperatures, salt can’t be used to melt the ice for better traction. Gravel is the preferred alternative, and that continually chips and tears at the vinyl until it needs to be replaced. “Sometimes I feel bad for my customers, but there’s no way to protect against that,” she notes. “It’s just the way things are here.”

A regional hub of commerce
The Northwest Territories boasts a total population of 40,000. As its capital, Yellowknife is the regional hub and home to government offices, educational institutions, tourism, and the many businesses, services, utilities, and NWT diamond mines driving the local economy. “This is the kind of place where everyone gets to know everyone else,” says Pacey.