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Tulsa business shares secret to success amid pandemic

Posted at 5:27 PM, Feb 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-11 08:25:05-05

TULSA, Okla. — Sparks of ingenuity, state of the art facilities, and a manufacturer on a mission to work faster, smarter and safer are what's at work inside the walls of Vacuworx.

"It really is about taking care of people," Bill Solomon, CEO of Vacuworx, said. "We've always been about how do we get people out of places that they really shouldn't be."

And this Tulsa company does that by creating cutting edge lifting technology.

"What we have specialized in is very unique lifting equipment using the power vacuum some would say like a suction cup," Solomon said. "So, we build equipment using that science to lift very heavy objects."

For more than 20 years Vacuworx has provided heavy lifting solutions for industries like oil and gas, and construction. When the pandemic hit, many of the major industries it served shut down.

"It's one thing to be able to go out and compete for business regardless of how they going to manage the material," Solomon said. "It's another thing not to have business to go compete for."

So, this company specializing in innovative solutions had to do some problem solving of its own. It quickly discovered it could help other companies looking for new ways to keep workers socially distanced and safe.

"They still had to get the job done, and they began to look for technology for the answer, and here we were raising our hand flag saying, 'I think we have some good ideas for you,'" Solomon said.

Soon Vacuworx had new customers in fields that ranged from boats to beer kegs, and that new demand meant manufacturing new supplies. But where would they find the extra money to do this? It came from the Oklahoma Bounce Back Assistance Program, where $9 million in aid went to help small manufacturers in the state.

"All of the incentives that we deliver through the department of commerce for the pandemic are performance based," said Brent Kisling Oklahoma Department of Commerce. "So, the company has to actually invest in equipment or had to hire people for those dollars. So they get their payment every month as they perform."

Kisling added, "It's a net neutral program for the state. So those companies grow and add more tax base that goes to the state then we're returning a portion of those taxes back to them."

Ninety-four Oklahoma companies won the awards ranging from $20,000 to $150,000 in payroll tax rebates.

"The bounce back money gave us the opportunity to grow our machine shop with some new capabilities so that we could accept some of the outside work," Solomon said.

That led Vacuworx to create more than a dozen new designs since March. It was also named 2020 manufacturer of the year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The CEO's advice to others: You don't have to have all the answers. Even a well-oiled machine needs a little help sometimes.

"It's okay to work with another company. It's okay to reach out and get bounce back money. It's okay to be part of the payment protection program," Solomon said. "If you qualify for these things, take advantage of them and reap the rewards."

If your business is looking for help, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce has case managers all over the state who can assist in finding both state and federal dollars. For more information about COVID-19 relief for businesses, click here.

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