From Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce Sean Kouplen’s perspective, the key to economic recovery following the global COVID-19 pandemic lies in transparency.
That is why he has led Industry Sector Roundtable Calls every Wednesday since the pandemic began. Businesses and industry leaders can access Oklahoma Department of Commerce’s weekly webinar series online or over the phone, where they are able to learn the latest COVID-19 guidelines and information regarding the state’s economic recovery.
“We felt it was important to communicate a lot,” says Kouplen. “Every Wednesday we have eight different industry sector calls with industries all over the state of Oklahoma. People want to know what’s going on. We have been very transparent and have shared all of the latest information. From a cabinet level perspective, I say ‘Here’s what’s going on at the state.’ We have daily COVID-19 briefings and suggestions at the end of every day. We also talk about programs we are launching and anything else we hear about out there.”
New Programs Help Companies Reboot and Bounce Back
Launched April 10, the Oklahoma Manufacturing Reboot Program aims to assist the state’s manufacturers as they retool to develop new products or expand their current capabilities. Within a week, more than 300 businesses applied for the program. The first 24 companies to receive the award were announced in May.
“Oklahoma businesses across the state have stepped up in response to this historic pandemic and developed innovative ways to support their communities, and now it is our turn to give back,” said Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt. “The Oklahoma Manufacturing Reboot Program will help meet a critical need for Oklahoma companies, while also creating more job opportunities for Oklahomans during this difficult time.”
The program draws from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund, a $5 million fund to assist Oklahoma manufacturers as they retool to develop new products and/or expand current capabilities.
“We’re dealing with not only the COVID-19 challenges, but also an energy challenge — oil prices went literally negative one day,” Kouplen explains. “We’re having to say [to businesses], ‘How do we help?’ We widely advertised this Manufacturing Reboot Program and we got 350 applicants. We awarded 37 grants between $25,000 and $150,000. They don’t have to be paid back. The purpose is for manufacturers to be able to reboot or pivot. A lot of them are going to need to change their business models or enhance what they’re currently doing.”
Kouplen says about one-third of the recipients have pivoted their businesses to make PPE for first responders and health care workers.
Though Boeing Co. was previously awarded $1 million from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund for its new Oklahoma City facility, the aerospace giant has decided to forgo the award so that it will be available for the new Manufacturing Reboot Program. Boeing, which has operations located throughout Oklahoma, determined that these funds would be better directed to help small businesses in the state work through this pandemic.
“Boeing is committed to supporting our community and small businesses with COVID-19 recovery and relief efforts,” said Nancy Anderson, Boeing vice president of Aircraft Modernization and Modification. “Forgoing this $1 million payment in favor of redistribution to the community and small businesses is one way we can help our community partners and Oklahoma remain strong.”
On April 28, Commerce simultaneously announced the recipients of the funding award and the launch of another new program to help businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Oklahoma Bounce Back Assistance Program was developed by Commerce as a direct result of the high level of interest and quality of projects submitted in the Manufacturing Reboot Program. The new assistance program will support high-impact new capital investment across a broader range of industries that will diversify the state’s economy, lead to new production development and increase capacity at existing companies. Additionally, the awards will encourage new capital investment, support existing jobs and create new ones.
“We are all aware of the strain the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on our state’s economy,” said Kouplen. “By enacting this program, we can help businesses start to move forward, giving them more flexibility as they adjust capabilities, begin new operations and hire more Oklahomans.”
The Bounce Back program uses funds set aside by the Oklahoma Economic Development Pooled Finance Act and makes monthly cash payment awards in the form of payroll tax rebates. To be eligible, a company must have a minimum annual payroll of $1.25 million. Awards range from $50,000 to $150,000.
In May, Commerce and Governor Stitt awarded contracts to more than 30 companies in the state, including Cosmetic Specialty labs, IMMY, Parrish Enterprises and Rapid Application Group (RAG).
RAG, based in Broken Arrow, normally develops and supplies parts for the aerospace, energy and health care industries. Shortly after the crisis began, the company shifted gears to manufacture two different types of reusable masks for health care professionals and first responders.
“This is a crisis that needs a solution right now. That’s what we’re doing,” said Terry Hill, former medevac pilot and CEO of RAG. “It’s just in our core DNA. If there’s somebody that needs help, if we have the resources, we’re going to give them everything that we can.”
Savannah King is managing editor of custom content for Conway Inc. She is an award-winning journalist and previously wrote for The Times in Gainesville, Ga. She graduated from the University of West Florida with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and lives near Atlanta.