April 16, 2019
Manufacturing insights

Optim uses SBA award to land new customers

Photo | Courtesy
Optim CEO Doug Hughes

Sturbridge optical equipment manufacturer Optim has been named the U.S. Small Business Administration's Exporter of the Year for 2019. In an interview, CEO Doug Hughes spoke about the honor and the company's recent growth.

What do you think led to this honor?

We've done a lot of work in the export environment in general. We make medical devices for ear, nose and throat doctors and security devices for contraband detection. They're similar products, but the end uses are very different products letting people see in places they otherwise couldn't see into.

We do a lot of export in both areas in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. We don't do a lot in Asia, but we're starting to do more.

Where is the biggest market?

Nothing is bigger than the U.S. We probably still do about 80 percent of our business in the U.S. Outside of the U.S. on the medical side, primarily southern Europe and Italy are the largest. For security, the Middle East is the biggest. We supply a lot of products around the world through security branches for U.S. embassies and things like that.

How does the SBA award help business?

It's a big boost for us in a couple ways. We're a small company, and we complete with large companies, so this provides credibility when we go into a new export market.

We were in Argentina and Chile last week and having something like this is important because it gives a small company credibility.

This award also helps us with attracting new talent. There's a lot of competition in this area for skilled manufacturing talent, and we fight with a lot of other companies for that talent.

What new products has Optim unveiled recently?

Our leading product now is a video inspection device to which we periodically make enhancements. It's an inspection device for contraband detection. When people are trying to hide contraband, drugs or money at a border crossing, our device lets you snake into the gas tank or engine compartment to find those things.

Are there a lot of Optim devices at the U.S.-Mexico border?

We've sold more than 2,000 different inspection scopes to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Everyport of entry has one of our scopes at it, and some have several. We go into local ports of entry and do training with customs officers so they understand how to use the products.

There's one at every U.S. embassy, one on Air Force One and one on Air Force Two.

How did the company grow in 2018?

We're up about 10 percent in total, and the workforce has grown by about the same across all segments of our business. In addition to medical devices and security devices, we make subcomponents for a lot of other medical device manufacturers. All three of those segments grew about 10 percent.

What does future growth look like?

We'll grow 10-to-15% this year. For a company of our size, it's a manageable growth.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Staff Writer Zachary Comeau.

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