Linweld offers advice for working with government agencies.
To gain a new customer, an industrial gases distributor often needs to think outside of the box. Looking beyond the traditional customer base can lead to partnerships with local, state and federal government agencies. The opportunities are there; all you need is the imagination to seize them. “The principles within the industrial gases business are pretty straightforward,” says Mark Bell, vice president of sales for Linweld, Inc., headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska. “In today’s market, it’s critical to take a look at the chemistry of the products we manufacture, produce, bottle and sell, and find new needs for them.”
Hooking a Plan
Bell speaks from experience. For the past 20 years, Linweld has been supplying gases to private and government-owned fisheries to maintain fish and assist in the processing. “Fish farms are great applications,” Bell says. “We continually look for these opportunities.” In spring 2004, Linweld worked with the state of Nebraska on its largest fishery project.
Lake McConaughy, located in central Nebraska, was down 90 percent of its normal capacity due to statewide drought conditions. This reservoir feeds into Lake Ogallala, a premier rainbow and brown trout fishery. For trout to thrive, water temperatures must be cooler than 70ß F and also have five parts per million of oxygen. Because the lake’s water was so shallow, it was warmer than usual and lacking oxygen. As the summer neared, the trout population was becoming increasingly threatened.
“We’ve had an aeration unit in Lake Ogallala since the late 1990s, but it raised the water temperature,” says Don Gabelhouse, fisheries division administrator for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “We needed to do something different.”
In search of expertise, a local congressman’s office contacted Linweld in March. Together, they came up with the idea of supplying liquid oxygen to a 67-acre section of Lake Ogallala known as the north basin, where the water is deep enough to stay cold.
By May, two 1,500-gallon liquid stand tanks were placed across the lake from one another to supply a gaseous oxygen line to a pump house that draws cold water from the bottom of the lake. The water is supersaturated with the liquid oxygen and redistributed to the lake through approximately 3,000 feet of perforated piping.
“It’s uncommon to pump liquid oxygen into a public lake, but it’s that type of creativity we needed to provide a refuge for the trout,” Gabelhouse says.
Tackling the Information
Linweld went into the project prepared. Because the state has been experiencing a drought for the past four years, and the fishery was becoming a greater challenge to preserve, the situation was well publicized. Bell stayed on top of the latest developments and news. “It’s important to take advantage of local resources,” Bell says. “I did some investigating and talked to people who were involved. When you have the opportunity to work with the government, it’s important to understand exactly what they want to accomplish.”
After being approached by the congressman’s office, Bell proposed a meeting at Linweld. Representatives from the congressman’s office, the Central Nebraska Irrigation District, Linweld and civil engineers from the University of Nebraska met at Linweld. “We needed to get everyone in the room together to identify our common denominators and how we could make this thing work.”
Three key factors to determine with government-funded projects are budget dollars, volume and need. Know how much your customer is willing to spend and stick to the budget. The state originally hired consultants to develop a plan, but each solution was too expensive. If there isn’t a budget in place, beware. Chances are you will do a tremendous amount of legwork for something that may never happen. “We came up with an economical solution by working together and keeping it simple,” explains Bell. “One of my earliest conversations with the state was determining the amount of oxygen they wanted to utilize so that we could put a cost to the project.”
This project’s need was obvious. The economic value of the trout totals about $1 million, a price too high to risk losing. If there had not been a great need, there probably wouldn’t have been a project.
Making It Work
Linweld now has a contract with the state of Nebraska to provide oxygen to Lake Ogallala. The tanks are filled on a monthly basis during the hottest parts of the year, June through September. “We definitely saved the lake for this year and probably next,” Bell says. “It was outstanding to participate in a project to help our environment and enable future generations to go fishing in Lake Ogallala.”
Bell offers several tips on how to approach a government agency with an idea. “Stay close to the opportunities and have open ears,” he advises. “We’re in the problem-solving business. We happen to be selling industrial gases, but the more problems you solve for your customers—those customers also being local, state and federal government—the more you will stand out from your neighboring competitor.”
When Approaching an Agency…
- Know Your Resources: Keep close to your local government and stay on top of current issues. “Be aware of whom your officials are and talk to them about what you do. Always pay attention.”
- Prepare: Identify key factors such as price, specs and need, and stick to them. “If you’re selling a piece of welding equipment, make sure they want the equipment set up, engineering help and training; or if they just want to buy something in a box,” Bell says. “Those are two completely different sales opportunities and cost scenarios.”
- Be Creative: Think outside of the box and separate yourself from the competition. “Offer intangibles and get them to write specs around the things that you know you can provide better than your competitors. Anybody in our industry can supply oxygen for fishery applications, but I don’t know how many would get out of the box and work directly with the state or sponsor a meeting.”
- Get Involved: Government agencies are accessible via the Internet. Sign up and make sure you’re getting bids. Participate in your local Chamber of Commerce.
- Communicate: Be sure you understand the ultimate goal. Know their expectations before going to bid.
- Go For It!