An excellent article by The Journal Record’s Brian Brus on OKGIT member and past chair, Chuck Mills’ family owned firm, Mills Machine Co.

The Oklahoma manufacturer, based out of Shawnee, Oklahoma, specializes in earth drilling tools, bits and related accessories for the water well, environmental, construction, geothermal and blast hole mining industries. Mills has focused on developing international customers for his company, something that was necessary for the Oklahoma manufacturer with more than 100 years of business experience.

“Even though the U.S. is the largest consumer in the world, 80 percent of the buying power lives outside our borders,” he said. “We make quality products. We have good workmanship. People love to do business with us. … We can compete globally with anybody.”

Read the full article online here.

The below interview originally ran in the January 2017 edition of The New Pioneer magazine. It is reproduced here with the express written permission of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.


Chuck Mills

Q&A with Charles D. Mills, President of Mills Machine Company, on his company’s use of the State Trade Expansion Grant Program offered through the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.

What initially made you decided to apply for the STEP grant?

“Since the grant was written for international marketing programs and I had always wanted to translate my website into several other languages, it was a perfect fit for my company. We chose Spanish to be the first language for translation because we were expanding our export market in Mexico, Central and South America.”

How has having your website translated into Spanish helped to increase opportunities/actual sales results?

“Our distributors have commented on how helpful the translated site is for them and their customers in trying to explain our product line and the advantages of our custom designed products.”

How did STEP funds help you save money in the long term?

“The STEP grant funds supplemented our investment for the translation costs which saved us several thousand dollars.

“As a relatively small company I probably would not have been able to come up with the money to translate my site, that is why I had not done it sooner.”

Describe the application process for the STEP grant.

“The application process was pretty involved but the questions were simple and straight forward. It requires you to define and update your international business plan which is always a good exercise for any business to do on a regular basis.”

What recommendations would you give other companies looking to apply?

“The STEP grant that I was awarded was $5,000 (the current cap is $2,000) and the cost of the translation plus the software and labor required to put that on our website cost us a little over $8,000. So, the new cap of $2,000 would still help but we obviously would have a lot more investment from our side. You could possibly at least translate your home page. The first thing that you need to do is contact your webmaster and see what is required to embed the software into your website and then shop around for a translation company that has good references in translating your industry’s terminology. Be aware of the different dialects and try to find some middle ground where people from different regions can understand your information. Use any local contacts that you have to provide guidance and translate your industries terminology into their language.”

What are some key takeaways from your experience?

“Do your homework, have a plan of what type of marketing that you want to apply for. You could translate your website or a brochure, attend ExporTech, exhibit at a trade show or whatever type of marketing that would grow your company.”

What is the primary reason peer companies should consider this grant other than the export portion?

“Take advantage of your tax dollars to supplement your marketing efforts to grow your company globally. Ninety-five percent of the world lives outside of the United States so take advantage of the opportunity and let’s grow the economy!”

For more information visit:

Read more about Chuck Mills and his century-old Oklahoma business in this profile from The Oklahoman.

(Top photo credit: Photo by Jim Stafford, For The Oklahoman.)

The Oklahoma Department of Commerce announces the Oklahoma STEP Forward Enhancement Fund, part of the State Trade Expansion Program, an export promotion initiative that makes matching-fund grants for states to assist small businesses. This grant is funded, in part, through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“The intent of this program is to increase the number of small businesses that are exporting, and to increase the value of exports for those small businesses that are currently exporting,” said Jennifer Springer, Director of Global Recruitment and Trade Services, at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.


Download the STEP Fund Flyer here.

Funding for this year will help eligible companies to offset the cost to participate at designated international trade shows and allow them to promote their Oklahoma-made products on a global scale.  In addition, other services such as website translations and marketing design; compliance testing; and shipping of sample products into international markets can be used toward the grant as well.

“The STEP grant, in partnership between the U.S. and Oklahoma Department of Commerce, is an incredible opportunity for Oklahoma exporters to receive marketing assistance to promote their products or services worldwide,” said Chuck Mills, President of Mills Machine and previous STEP grant recipient. “The program enabled us to translate our website into another language which made it easier for our customers to understand our product line!”

To be considered for the Oklahoma STEP Fund, all applicants are required to submit an application and supporting documentation. The Oklahoma Department of Commerce will begin taking applications from Oklahoma small businesses starting November 1, 2016.

A full application, guidelines and requirements can be found online at For more information, contact the Global Recruitment and Trade Division at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce at (800) 879-6552, or 405-815-5136 or

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.”