Vac-Con announced Monday it will ship 18 of its combination sewer cleaner trucks — worth $6 million — through the Port of Jacksonville to Lima, Peru this month. That comes on the heels of a 20-truck shipment to Iraq just two weeks ago.
Vac-Con's exports are growing at a rate of 10 percent, the company's marketing manager Tom Jody said, about the same as the company's overall growth.
"It's important to us we make something that is necessary and needed in America and that also helps people in other markets," he said.
The 18 trucks will be used by Sedapal, a Peruvian state-owned utility that provides water and sewerage services to Lima. Sedapal plans to spend $165 million this year to construct needed upgrades to the area's water and sanitation systems.
State Rep. Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville, called the size of the Vac-Con order "pretty significant." He applauded the company's commitment to shipping through the port.
"I think it's very representative of what we're trying to do with imports and exports in Florida," Ray said. "All of Vac-Con's raw materials are shipped in through this port and the product is also shipped out through JaxPort. Also, every part of the product is made here in Northeast Florida, with the exception of the truck and the frame."
Vac-Con sewer cleaning trucks are essentially a gigantic Shop-Vac, Jody said, equipped with an 8-inch-wide vacuum hose powered with enough suction to clear a clog from more than 100 feet away. The truck also has a water system that delivers 2,000 pounds per-square inch of pressure to flush out clogged pipes.
"We've had it pick up 75-pound dumbbells and cannonballs," Jody said.
The company launched in Green Cove Springs in 1986 out of an old Dunbar Kapple factory. Dunbar Kapple built vacuum compressors used to transport grain on and off of ships. Vac-Con's founder originally designed his new sewer cleaning machine using that same vacuum compressor.
Today, Vac-Con has 37 distributors throughout the U.S. and about the same number internationally, Executive Vice President Todd Masley said. About 75 percent of its business is domestic and 25 percent international.
Because Vac-Con's customers are municipalities, the company is fairly recession resistant, he said.
Ray said manufacturing, in general, is more resistant to economic cycles as well, which is why the state has crafted policies to encourage more of it.
"During the recent recession, our manufacturing was impacted too, but less than these other sectors," Ray said. "Traditionally, the backbone of Florida's economy has been tourism, (real estate) development and agriculture. Manufacturing broadens those economic drivers."
The pay scale for manufacturing jobs is typically 40 percent higher than average wages, Ray said.
Vac-Con employs 280 workers and is the second largest employer in Clay County, Masley said. Jobs at the employee-owned company include engineers, accountants, assemblers, welders and painters.
A Green Cove Springs company that builds vacuum cleaning trucks for city sewer systems is doing its part to double exports in Florida.