As the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect the economy and businesses, the federal government stepped in with several new programs and expanded efforts that proved critical to many. Unfortunately, not all businesses were able to qualify to receive financial support under these federal aid packages. That’s where Oklahoma’s nimble government structure stepped in.
The Oklahoma Department of Commerce immediately solicited feedback from corporate executives in the state and was able to roll out, within days, other avenues for Oklahoma businesses to seek financial help.
Within days of the Payroll Protection Program funding being announced at the federal level, Sean Kouplen, Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce & Workforce Development, along with Brent Kisling, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, began holding twice weekly SBA conference calls (attended by up to 1,000 people/companies per call) as well as weekly specific industry sector calls (also attended by hundreds of companies), that outline step by step what companies need to do to access the PPP funding.
There are two notable examples of how Commerce was able to adapt existing incentives to help Oklahoma companies.
The Oklahoma Manufacturing Reboot Program was launched on April 10 to address the negative effects COVID-19 has had on Oklahoma businesses, specifically manufacturers. The program utilized $5 million from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund to assist Oklahoma manufacturers as they retool to develop new products and/or expand current capabilities. In the one week the application was available, Commerce received more than 300 applications, resulting in 29 contract awards. Funding could be used for purchase of machinery, purchase of CAD/CAM equipment or software, payroll and/or training for new and/or existing employees.
Following the announcement of the creation of the program, Boeing decided to forgo previously awarded funds of $1 million from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund to make those moneys available for the new Manufacturing Reboot Program. Boeing, which has operations located throughout Oklahoma, determined that these funds could be better served to help small businesses in the state work through this pandemic.
Because of the high level of interest and the quality of projects submitted in the Reboot program, Commerce developed the Oklahoma Bounce Back Assistance Program to continue to stimulate economic growth and combat the negative effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the state’s economy.
Launched April 28, the program was intended to support high-impact new capital investment across a broad range of industries to diversity the state’s economy, lead to new product development or increase capacity at Oklahoma’s existing companies. In addition to encouraging new capital investment, the small but impactful awards, which range between $50,000 and $150,000 will support existing jobs and the creation of new ones.
“We are all aware of the strain the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on our state’s economy,” said Sean Kouplen, Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development. “By enacting this program, we are helping businesses start to move forward, giving them more flexibility as they adjust capabilities, begin new operations and hire more Oklahomans.”
This incentive makes monthly cash payment awards in the form of payroll tax rebates to help companies grow and boost business expansion investments in Oklahoma.
In mid-June, Governor Kevin Stitt announced the new Oklahoma Business Relief Program (OBRP) which will utilize $100 million in funds from the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund to support local businesses impacted by COVID-19.
“As businesses begin to ramp up their operations again, we know that they still face many barriers,” said Stitt. “Through this program, we can give Oklahoma companies access to much needed funds to bridge the gap while they work to get back up to speed, both in terms of operations and revenues.”
The program is administered by Commerce with the assistance of participating local financial institutions. To qualify, the business must have suffered a revenue loss of 25% or more from January to May 2020 compared to the same months in 2019. The revenue loss must be substantially caused by the impact of COVID-19.
“We designed this program to be similar to the federal PPP program which proved to be beneficial to many Oklahoma companies,” said Sean Kouplen, Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce & Workforce Development. “By making it needs based, expanding our program to 501(c)(6) entities and ensuring that 20 percent of program funds are paid to minority businesses, we are confident that this program will help Oklahoma companies of all sizes navigate the coming months as we continue to work to help our economy recover.”