ENID, Okla. — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt visited Enid business owners Friday, to hear feedback on state and federal aid offered to help businesses through the COVID-19 crisis.

The visit, coordinated by Oklahoma Department of Commerce, Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce and Enid Regional Development Alliance, included a tour of A.W. Brueggemann Co. with Oklahoma Department of Commerce Executive Director Brent Kisling; a tour with the governor of No Man’s Land Foods; and a roundtable discussion with a select group of business owners, Enid Mayor George Pankonin and other elected officials at Oakwood Country Club.

Eleven area businesses and nonprofits were represented at the roundtable, all of which had received federal COVID-19 relief aid and/or one of three grants administered through Department of Commerce, from federal funds provided through the CARES Act.

Innovation was a common theme among the business owners' stories Friday.

"Innovation and adaptation has been key," said Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jon Blankenship. He said especially restaurants and retail businesses had to learn to "turn on a dime" as the pandemic developed.

Tracy Bittle, executive director at Leonardo's Children's Museum, said the pandemic could not have hit at a worse time for her nonprofit, which makes the bulk of its revenue in the spring. She said the museum lost about $250,000 by not being open over spring break — about a third of the annual operating budget — and COVID-19 aid programs helped keep her staff employed until they could reopen for summer camp.

Matt Parrish, president of PT Coupling, said a state Reboot Grant helped the company keep its 300 employees on the payroll, despite COVID hitting just after a slumping oilfield market cut sales by 40%.

Some companies actually saw business increase during the height of the pandemic.

Mickey Stowers, president of Aircraft Structures International (ASIC), said he added workers during the pandemic, because increased demand for air delivery by FedEx — ASIC's major source of revenue — was increasing wear and tear on their planes, and bringing in more repair business to ASIC.

Thomas Rowe, owner of Settlers Brewing Co., said he had to quickly change his sales strategy when COVID shut down his bar and seating area, just two months after the business opened its doors.

By shifting to to-go, and then delivery, orders of growlers, along with assistance from the grant programs, Rowe reported he was able to not only weather the shutdown, but also has been giving back to local charities, notably Leonardo's, Enid SPCA, 4RKids Foundation and Enid Public School Foundation.

Blankenship said the future remains uncertain, but companies that have been able to innovate their way thus far through 2020 will be well-positioned to outlast whatever comes next.

"Those that are left standing are stronger," Blankenship said, "and will be better able to withstand challenges in the future."

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for James? Send an email to jneal@enidnews.com.

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