In today’s business world, the term “networking” brings to mind the complex systems that keep connected computer systems up and running. However, it was the old-fashioned kind of networking – the face-to-face communication variety – that was responsible for turning a product idea into reality and, in the process, creating economic growth for Oklahoma.
When Oklahoma City businessman John Gossett purchased the rights to produce and market SafeLoad ramps – a pickup truck ramp designed to assist in loading ATVs, golf carts and other equipment – he was insistent that his product would be made in Oklahoma. The desire to manufacture their ramps in Oklahoma was a practical one: not only would having a local manufacturer provide jobs for the state’s economy, but it would also shave several months from the time needed to bring the project to market.
The problem? Gossett couldn’t find an Oklahoma shop that could take on the project. He began working with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce’s international division to find a manufacturer in Mexico to produce the ramp when the “old-fashioned” networking began to intervene here in Oklahoma.
Dr. Ray Brown, vice president for the Center for Economic and Community Development at Rogers State University, had heard about SafeLoad’s need for a local manufacturer via his connections with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. Brown and Bill Shortridge, an Oklahoma Alliance for Manufacturing Excellence manufacturing extension agent who is sponsored in Rogers County by RSU, immediately thought of a Catoosa company that might be able to handle SafeLoad’s needs.
The two men then met with Roger Cordray, operations manager at Control Components Limited (CCL), who said his company would take on the project. CCL provides job shop subcontracting work for companies needing machining, stamping and fabrication. Brown and Shortridge then arranged for a meeting between SafeLoad and CCL to initiate discussions between the two companies.
After that meeting, CCL engineers worked extensively with Gossett’s company for about a year refining the ramp’s design so that it would be less expensive to manufacture and ship, while still retaining the structural integrity that allows the 50-pound ramp to hold more than 1,500 pounds.
Constructed of lightweight aluminum, the SafeLoad ramp is installed in place of an existing tailgate on a Chevrolet, Ford or Dodge full-sized pickup without modifications to the truck. When fully extended, the ramp is about 84 inches long and creates a ramp that allows convenient loading of equipment into the truck bed. The ramp can then be converted into a lockable, flow-through tailgate.
The feedback from the ATV industry regarding SafeLoad ramp has been overwhelmingly positive. A product review from ATV Illustrated described the ramp system as “a poster boy for what American-manufactured products should be” and called the product the “safest and most convenient ATV loading ramps we’ve ever used.”
Gossett said CCL’s contributions improved the product’s design, lowered production costs and slashed shipping costs.
“We couldn’t be at the point where we are today without the hard work that Roger and CCL put into this product,” Gossett said.
To meet SafeLoad’s demands, CCL added three employees dedicated to production, order processing and shipping of their product line. The company can produce about 20 ramps a day per shift, and SafeLoad has ordered more than $700,000 of the ramps during the next two years. Cordray said he expects SafeLoad to be his fifth largest customer by the end of 2005.
Brown said he was thrilled to be able to assist in the link between CCL and SafeLoad because a central purpose of RSU’s Center for Economic and Community Development is to facilitate connections within the business community.
“This was a natural extension of our mission at the Center,” Brown said. “While we are geared to provide resources to area entrepreneurs and businesses directly, we can also provide indirect benefits through our network of contacts.”
Business and community networking has been important to driving business growth for CCL, Cordray said.
“Without a doubt, businesses wanting to expand should take full advantage of the connections through available through programs such as the Center for Economic and Community Development,” he said.
For more information on the SafeLoad ramp, call toll-free 877-600-7267. For more information about CCL, call (918) 317-4116. For more information about the RSU Center for Economic and Community Development, call (918) 343-7533.