James' vision became real and made a real impact

11 15, 2012 by Daily Advertiser

Lafayette native Michael H. James spent much of his early life moving between oilfield jobs and colleges, changing his major from agriculture to art. His diverse background led him into an entrepreneurial career, one that helped him produce machines that cleaned up the BP oil spill.

But success did not come easily for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette alumnus who grew up near the USL Dairy Farm, where the Cajundome and UL fraternity houses now stand.

James' first attempt at producing a high-powered portable vacuum for the petrochemical industry was a "flop," he said, but he continued working on the model, installed different hoses and changed to a bigger pump. It was designed to pick up product spilled at refineries, chemical plants and barge companies.

"I worked with a vacuum truck company, and I was in Lafayette at a friend's business and found a machine that he was using and I just thought that I could build a better one," James said. "It was the first thing I had ever built."

After a series of mishaps and gambles, James founded Triton Industries in 1997. James' company began receiving recognition after his machines were used to clean up some 50 percent of the BP oil spill in 2010.

Then, an oil and gas company that happened to be a customer from James' oilfield sales days asked him to build an electric unit — a gamble for James.

"I went ahead and built one and put it on the rig and it was the first time I ever heard it run. I had never tested it and I didn't know if it would work," James said. "It ran wonderfully, beautifully. They ordered another one after that and the company just got rolling after that."

Triton is located in the tiny town of Lottie in Pointe Coupee Parish, but it has received national recognition for its innovations and success. Its most prized award is the 2011 Excellence in Innovation Award for manufacturers given by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Institute of Standards and Technology. Triton received the award for its commitment to continuous improvement and innovative product development, and because its innovative systems contributed to the cleanup efforts in the Gulf after the BP oil spill, according to a news release.

Almost 40 of Triton's industrial vacuum systems were leased by companies employed by BP to assist with cleanup, and barges with the systems recovered more oil than all of the other technologies combined, according to a state website.

In addition, this May, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce awarded its 2012 Blue Ribbon Small Business Award to Triton, one of only two Louisiana small businesses to receive the prestigious recognition for dedication to the principles of free enterprise and contributions to restoring jobs and prosperity. And, in 2011, the Louisiana Economic Development District awarded Triton Industries the Lantern Award for outstanding contributions to the Louisiana economy and to the community.

The company has 17 employees and products in 17 countries around the world, James said, and the company has continued to look for ways to grow.

"We're looking at the markets in Houston and Mobile. There's been a big interest in our equipment up north and in Canada, Pennsylvania and North Dakota," James said.