Posted: March 01, 2013
40 at 40
Through booms, busts, recessions and a digital revolution, here are 40 Colorado companies still going strong after four decades – or moreBy Gigi Sukin
ColoradoBiz turns the Big 4-0 in 2013, and seizing the moment to flex our journalistic muscle, we’re offering up a narrative nod to some notable Colorado enterprises that have endured at least as long, and in the process helped shape Colorado as we know it. ColoradoBiz 40 At 40 is what the name suggests: a look at 40 Colorado companies that not only have made their mark; they’ve done it for 40-plus years.
Forty years ago this month, a monumental feat in civil engineering bolstered Colorado’s ski industry in relation to the state’s biggest city and transportation hub. In March 1973, the drive from Denver to Aspen was shortened by 10 miles, saving drivers up to an hour, as the first 40-foot-wide bore of the Eisenhower Tunnel opened to motorists, 1,000 feet below the snaking crest of Loveland Pass. Already, Aspen was getting its Glitter Gulch notoriety, but it still had that rough-n-tumble look of the mining town where silver barons once cavorted with roustabouts.
As ColoradoBiz – then Colorado Business magazine – published its first edition, Aspen Skiing Co. had been in business 27 years. Walter Paepcke, founder of Aspen Skiing Co., as well as The Aspen Institute, set a cultural stage in an otherwise small mountain town – one of many actors whose vision had a hand in transforming the state.
On to Something …
Childhood friends Ira Rothgerber and Walter Appel grew up in Denver in the 1890s, attending East High School and later venturing to the University of Colorado. In school they shared a single room with no indoor plumbing. After bonding in close quarters, with schooling and practical experience under their belts, the two felt prepared to join forces, opening their own law firm in 1903.
Just the two-man shop for the first 30 years, when the desire for expansion surged to the point of action, Ira Rothgerber Jr. and Bill Johnson stepped up to the plate.
In the late 1960s, Johnson successfully challenged banking standards, pioneering the “one bank holding company” structure. Such regulations allowed bank holding companies to become vehicles for efficient debt management, introducing a new structure for community bank ownership still widely used today.
In 1971, the firm hired Jim Lyons, one of the most respected trial lawyers in the region – ultimately forming Rothgerber, Johnson & Lyons.
“Our fundamental internal relationships are in many ways like a family,” Lyons said.
And the family extends beyond its legal ties.
The law firm founders were also involved in establishing FirstBank in 1963. The Colorado-based bank was one of few financial institutions to experience consistent growth during the recent recession.
“(Our connections) provide a platform for all of us to be successful,” Lyons said.
Stepping in our time machine and going as far back in history as our 40 At 40 takes us, we arrive in 1873, where Boosterism – a uniquely American combination of faith in the future and strident promotion – defined a company’s destiny and a decade of growth in the fluid Colorado society.
That year, German brewing apprentices Adolph Coors and Jacob Schueler stowed away on a trans-Atlantic ship with determination to fashion their own brew. Once hitting land, they journeyed westward into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in search of a necessary water supply – stumbling into Golden, where springs near Clear Creek provided crisp water from snow-capped mountains.
Lucky for Coors, Colorado miners were willing to spend their hard-earned gold dust on beer.
Craft brews have developed into the cat’s meow by today’s standards, especially in the Centennial State, yet today, more than a century after its origination, the Golden Brewery (part of the Miller Coors joint venture) is the largest single-site brewery worldwide, and the birthplace of Coors Brewing Co., which merged with Molson in 2005.
“Coors is a great example of longevity and institutionalism that spans generations in one city, under one banner, providing connectivity to our region, city, state … it’s incomparable,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
Roughly three years after Coors’ debut, family business Everist Materials planted its roots in Summit County, utilizing local resources and recognizing its strategic space to provide multiple Colorado communities construction materials and services.
“The small mountain communities of the North Central Rocky Mountains have successfully developed, which stimulates construction activity,” said Greg Norwick, Everist’s current president.
Toward the end of the 19th century, the Denver Pacific Railway stabilized Colorado’s economy, bringing residents, tourists, trade, manufacturing, agriculture and ranching.
“[Colorado] knew we would not be relevant unless we connected … and industries came out of that,” Hancock observed.
Frontier entrepreneurs worked collectively as community builders and leaders. Today, the same spirit still holds true as “public and private partnerships” advance our state, according to Buz Koelbel, president of longtime developer Koelbel and Co.
As illustrated historically, the ability to connect the complex landscape of the state has opened countless opportunities for Colorado businesses.
On the mend …
Between 1870 and 1890, manufacturing output skyrocketed from $600,000 to $40 million, and Denver’s population grew twentyfold.
Thereafter, with willingness to innovate, yet faithful to its core business and niche market, the Denver Machine Shop blazed a trail for many leaders in the budding sustainability market.
Founded in 1916, Fred A. White’s business has been passed down four generations to substitute a ‘dispose-and-replace’ mentality in exchange for extending equipment life with a repair, rebuild and reuse paradigm.
“We still maintain the core of our business, supplying and repairing parts for a variety of industries. Sustainability goes back to the heart of craftsmanship,” said Scott White, who currently owns the repair shop with his twin brother, Eric.
Likewise, Colorado Demolition & Deconstruction has emphasized environmental diversity by enabling materials for recycling and re-purposing since 1973.
Gigi Sukin is an Associate Editor at ColoradoBiz. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.