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Oklahoma exporter spotlight: Mills Machine Co.

One of the more common questions a drilling manufacturing company head always gets in times of cheap oil is how badly is it impacting their business. Yet Oklahoma’s Mills Machine Co. faces no such problems, as the company’s diverse product line for all earth drilling needs, from the water well to mining industries keeps it in a regular supply of customers. We spoke with OKGIT member and Mills Machine Co. President Chuck Mills about his company, its domestic and international clientele and the future of Oklahoma exports.

 What does Mills Machine Co. do?

“Mills Machine Company (est. 1908) is a third generation, family owned business headquartered in Shawnee, Okla. Mills is a leading manufacturer and distributor of a complete line of earth drilling tools, bits and related accessories for water well, environmental, geo-thermal, construction and blast hole mining industries.

Chuck Mills.

Chuck Mills.

“We serve these industry customers in both domestic and international markets, offering standard and custom-crafted products that include hollow stem augers, stabilizers, hole openers, underreamers, casing cutters, pipe handling tools, drilling adapters, soil sampling equipment, claw bits, core bits and other drilling accessories.

“Mills has earned a reputation for quality products and for its innovative customer solutions. Based on years of service in multiple drilling industry sectors, we have developed the unique capacity to modify existing products from one industry for use in another, often resulting in cost savings to the customer.”


How many employees do you have in Oklahoma?

“Mills currently employs 22 skilled professionals at our Shawnee facility, which includes our corporate and sales offices, manufacturing facilities and warehousing and distribution operations.

“In past years, Mills employed as many as 65 skilled workers, but with increased mechanization through computer aided manufacturing (CAM), we were able to streamline our production of standard industry products. In producing the custom-crafted products Mills is known for, we maintain a highly skilled and innovative workforce.

“By focusing on our core business and providing the best possible customer service, Mills has been able to serve a broad and growing domestic and international clientele from one central location in Shawnee.”


Can you give me an idea of how much Mills Machine Co. relies on exporting its products outside the U.S.?

“The mix between our U.S. and international product sales varies at times depending upon economic conditions here and abroad, but as a general rule approximately 25 percent of the standard and custom-crafted products we produce are sold internationally. While the specific international customers may vary with time, we have sold our products in approximately 70 worldwide markets.”


What are some of the challenges Mills Machine Co. faces in exporting from Oklahoma?

“Thankfully, we don’t have any significant challenges or obstacles in exporting our products from here in Oklahoma. We’re fairly close to the ports of Houston and New Orleans and transportation is efficient and cost-effective.

“Communication is no barrier because English remains the international business language. In addition, there are a variety of service providers, including freight forwarders, agents, international banks and attorneys to help manage the process.”


You’ve said before that despite the cost savings associated with moving production elsewhere, you’ve made a conscious effort to keep Mills Machine Co. in Shawnee, Okla. What’s the calculation there for you as a small business owner?

“Companies relocate or open satellite facilities to get closer their customers and to sell more products. While that can be an advantage, there is also the potential disadvantage of increased overhead and higher production costs which affect profitability. This is particularly true in the highly populated coastal markets where the cost of living and taxes are higher.

“As a manufacturer of drilling tools, I would rather be here in Oklahoma, the crossroads of America, in one manufacturing and distribution facility. Here, we can best manage and control process, production and distribution. Also, since we manufacture both standard and custom-crafted drilling tools and accessories, we have an added advantage. Our customers come to us because very often they are looking for a specific product solution that only a custom manufacturer can provide.

“In fact, I’d say that since we are a custom or niche manufacturer, we can produce our products from virtually anywhere and customers will find us as a result of our aggressive marketing efforts.”


In terms of when Mills Machine Co. first began producing items for export, is there any advice that you’d give to firms in Oklahoma who are considering forging international ties and exporting?

“Let’s begin with the good news. The landscape for exporting has improved dramatically since Mills Machine Company began exporting from Oklahoma more than 35 years ago. The world has shrunk due to a robust infrastructure of resources and services available to assist companies interested in exporting opportunities. The Internet and digital technology have helped tremendously, offering tools, information and services for both the novice and skilled exporter.

“To those interested in exporting, I’d say the time is right. With an estimated 95 percent of consumers living outside the U.S. and 80 percent of the buying power residing outside our country, there is potentially a huge untapped market of opportunity to grow Oklahoma businesses through exports.

“To the uninitiated, it may appear to be complicated and risky, but there are both governmental and private resources to help guide businesses through every step in the process. I predict that here in Oklahoma, the infrastructure to support exporting capabilities will take another leap forward in the coming months.”