Resilience Under Pressure – Smiley Pete Publishing
The shelf life of rubber, a versatile and flexible material used to seal a variety of products, is determined by how it is stored. Temperature, light, humidity and ozone affect its longevity. Under the right conditions, its lifespan is considerably increased.
Danette Wilder, president and CEO of SealingLife Technology, a Lexington-based manufacturing and distribution company that produces o-rings and seals, hopes her business will continue to enjoy enduring endurance like the products it does. made. “We were looking to create a science and technology driven company that would last for a long time,” she said.
Founded by Wilder in 2008, SealingLife designs, manufactures and assembles sealing devices and systems. It creates custom polymer-based materials, including thermoplastics and rubber, and converts them into parts primarily for the aerospace, power, utility, and sportswear industries.
Similar to its rubber seals, SealingLife needs the right conditions to thrive, but the two pandemics – COVID-19 and systemic discrimination – also affect its lifespan.
Wilder, a native of Detroit who initially moved to Kentucky for a job at Toyota before founding SealingLife, was featured in a recent ProPublica article on the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on black-owned businesses nationwide and on the exacerbation of long-standing inequalities.
Wilder said SealingLife has lost about 60% of its revenue since the COVID strike. One of its biggest customers, Parker Hannifin, a Cleveland-based company specializing in motion and control technologies, has stopped purchasing o-rings from the Wilder company and has started manufacturing them in-house. The company has also seen a reduction in revenue with state and federal projects.
While the pandemic has had a crippling effect on many small businesses, black-owned businesses have been disproportionately affected. A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that between February and April 2020, 41% of black entrepreneurs closed their businesses, compared to 17% of white business owners.
Paycheck Protection Program loans reached only 20% of eligible businesses in states with the highest density of black-owned businesses, and in counties where black-owned business activity was the most common. denser, coverage rates were generally less than 20%. –Federal Reserve Bank of New York Report
The report also revealed alarming discrepancies between black and white-owned businesses receiving funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). “These loans only reached 20% of eligible businesses in states with the highest densities of black-owned businesses, and counties with the most dense black-owned business activity, coverage rates were generally less than 20%, ”he said.
As a black female engineer and business leader in the field of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), Wilder says she felt these disparities, even before COVID, in her relationships with her industry peers. , with clients and in the search for funding. .
“It’s not something that I asked for, but that I still have to manage as a business owner,” she said.
Although SealingLife has received $ 500,000 in the US SBA (Small Business Administration) and PPP programs, Wilder says it is particularly difficult for her to obtain bank loans and contracts, demonstrate her abilities, and network with others. others in his sector. “There is inherently inherent discrimination,” she said.
Les Burd, owner of ElastoSeal, a Lexington-based company that manufactures and manufactures custom elastomeric products, agrees with Wilder. Burd, who is white, said it was difficult for a black woman to start a business from scratch in an industry historically run by white men. “No matter how much we want a level playing field, there are people in business today who would still want to hold someone,” he said.
Most of the money generated by SealingLife comes from clients outside the State. Wilder said Kentucky is a tight-knit region and people often prefer to do business with people they know personally. She also asked clients to say they didn’t want to hire too many black people or hire a black receptionist to answer the phone for fear of being seen as a black business. Wilder appreciates their frankness, but also finds it disturbing.
“It’s good that I build relationships with my clients where they can be honest and open with me, but it’s bad from the point of view that you have the audacity to tell me,” she said. declared. “It means you probably don’t value me.”
Terrence Woodley, owner and vice president of Seventh Sense Consulting, a Northern Virginia-based company that provides IT support to federal agencies, said Wilder is talented, smart and capable, but needs decision makers in the field. business to give him an opportunity. He also said the government may have to step in, assess real value and give direct rewards to minority-owned businesses.
Despite discrimination and gender bias, Wilder ensures that his business is continually evolving. In addition to manufacturing rubber related products, SealingLife also focuses on research and development, as well as testing and prototyping of custom materials. By consulting with their customers, they make sure that customers understand the materials they are buying and the best way to use them.
SealingLife also offers supply chain management, warehousing space and logistics for rental using its fleet of dump trucks and semi-trailers. Initially, the trucks were used for waste management services and to support the manufacturing of SealingLife, but Wilder said she saw “a need to diversify, expand and make better use of trucks.”
The company’s vision also includes finding ways to integrate technology into its bespoke materials, allowing smart materials and parts to work in tandem and communicate information effectively.
Woodley, of Seventh Sense Consulting, first learned about SealingLife through Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, a program designed to help small businesses achieve their strategic goals and grow their revenues. Woodley said he was impressed with SealingLife and its ISO (International Organization for Standardization) 9001: 2015 certification, one of the leading accreditors for quality management, and its AS9100D certification, the standard certification for companies supplying products and aviation, defense and space industries with a concentration in aerospace.
“SealingLife has played a pivotal role in the development of our quality management system,” said Woodley. “They worked hand in hand with our administration and our employees and built a top-of-the-line system from scratch.” Woodley said Wilder had excellent credentials and the ability to develop infrastructure.
Late last year, Wilder was named Supplier of the Year by the National Minority Supplier Development Council. Wilder said this recognition is a testament to the quality of work she and her team provide. Wilder says she is motivated to achieve her vision of building a sustainable business in engineering and science while providing opportunities for her employees.
“At the end of the day, I want to support my family and give back to the community,” she said.