By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
There are fewer fireworks manufacturers in the United States today than a few years ago — one of them is in northwest Oklahoma.
Jim Burnett, owner of Western Enterprises at Carrier, said rules and regulations and the inability to compete with foreign manufacturing companies has put some out of business. There are fewer companies that manufacture and perform pyrotechnic displays like Western Enterprises.
“Most companies just manufacture for themselves, and that’s mostly what we do,” Burnett said.
Western Enterprises also manufactures for Disney World and select others, but 95 percent of the product they manufacture is for their use. He estimated 10 or 12 companies make product for use in their own performances.
Western Enterprises was started by Burnett’s father in 1946. He primarily concentrated on consumer fireworks such as those purchased at fireworks stands. In about 1948, he became involved in display fireworks and performed pyrotechnic displays nationwide. In 1950, he purchased a company in Colorado, which expanded his enterprise outside Oklahoma, and the company has branched from there, Burnett said.
Licensing for manufacturing is through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and together with safety standards and insurance makes the fireworks business increasingly difficult to operate. Many fireworks companies are in foreign countries — the largest is China and Japan also manufactures many fireworks. He said Japan makes good fireworks and once dominated the industry, but their fireworks are more expensive now.
Burnett said Western Enterprises is in a position of manufacturing something different than other companies because most everyone imports from China.
“China has become better than they used to be. The manufacturing of fireworks is considered an art form, which is kind of strange for something that blows up,” Burnett said.
Gary Caimano, choreographer and marketing director for Western Enterprises — who worked many years with the Zambelli fireworks company, one of the oldest in the U.S. — has worked for Western Enterprises since 1998. Periodically he and Burnett worked together prior to then.
“He uses music to make fireworks like a stage play, to implement music with the fireworks,” Burnett said. “He has produced fireworks for two Olympiads in Los Angeles and Atlanta ...” Burnett said.
The evolution of Western Enterprises has been extensive, especially since moving out of Enid into Carrier. That move was a big factor in terms of storage and moving into the pyrotechnic field. Burnett said he is in the entertainment business, which is one most affected by the recession. It’s also a seasonal business. Western Enterprises currently has 16 employees but by July 4 will have a thousand.