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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 more

Gigi Sukin

Schacht Spindle Co. has demonstrated similar devotion to craftsmanship for more than 40 years, with continued community interest in hand-woven work.

White says a major challenge in manufacturing has been finding new talent to bring onboard.

“Most modern parents dream of their kids going to college. With manufacturing, they picture smoke stacks and dirt under fingernails, so we’ve lost a generation,” White says.

Additionally, MWH Global, a Denver-based leader in wet infrastructure and water engineering, has sought opportunities from the obstacles of their own impending workforce shortages.
While manufacturing and engineering has experienced its own set of challenges, content “manufacturers” have endured tumultuous times, as fast-food style communication has evolved throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

“There are many complicated components at play in the equation that result in the longevity of a business,” said The Tattered Cover owner Joyce Meskis, who partially attributes the bookstore’s success since 1971 to the ability to adapt to changing market conditions.

In spite of the ongoing “death of the written word” discourse, Josh Awtry, executive editor of the 140-year-old Fort Collins newspaper, The Coloradoan, contends that, “contrary to popular opinion, the news business is doing anything but dying … despite changes in technology, lifestyle and generational shifts.”

Or, as White puts it: “The trick has been reminding people that anything can be fixed.”

With comparable optimism in a return to craftsmanship, sustainable practices and traditional values, Loveland’s Porter Industries has delivered service with a “can-do” attitude and attempted to squelch the stereotype that cleaning crews “are mindless automatons,” since the 1960s.  As Larimer County developed from railroad stop to metropolitan, Porter found its niche with full-service cleaning and facilities management. 

Though the economic boom of the ’80s and ’90s made for prosperous times for Porter, downturns have resulted in corporate contract cuts.

“That can be a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach,” said Steve Hendrickson, Porter’s vice president and chief business development officer. “Over time, a well-executed, high-performance cleaning program can … have an impact on indoor air quality. … We’ve always been optimistic about Colorado doing better than the national economic picture.”
And Ball Corp.’s director of communications and engagement tends to agree.

“Colorado is a good place to base a multinational company like ours,” said Ball’s Scott McCarty.

Rather than stick to the adage, “if it ain’t broke…” in 1969, Ball acquired an aluminum can plant based in Golden at a time when the majority of beverages were housed in steel cans. In a refusal to conform to confining standards, the company built the largest recyclable aluminum beverage can business to date.

Several years following, Broomfield acquired 118 year-old Ball Corp.’s headquarters, embracing its  “We can!” methodology.

“The combination of this amazing setting, which draws smart and innovative people and the respect for new ideas has been beneficial for Ball,” McCarty said.

On the rise …

With the people and supplies necessary to solidify dominance in the region, the stage was set in post-World War II Colorado for major expansion with a premonition the state could become a major global player.

“Our firm’s longevity and continuity can be attributed to its adaptability in the face of an ever-changing economy,” said H. Joshua Gould, chairman and CEO of architecture, design and engineering firm RNL.

Other companies that have executed essential infrastructural elements and design to develop Colorado’s cities and beyond include Hensel Phelps Construction Co., PCL Construction Enterprises Inc., SLATERPAULL Architects, H+L Architecture, Koelbel & Co., Oz Architects, Brothers Redevelopment Inc., Merrick & Co., and Intermountain Electric, a subsidiary of Quanta Service Inc.

Like Aspen’s Paepcke had in the mountains only 20 years prior, David Neenan envisioned “improving the human condition” with his work in 1966. After losing seven times his net worth on a failed construction project in Casper, Wyo., his firm, The Neenan Co., developed a collaborative approach to business, dubbed “Archistructure.” By connecting design, construction and project finance, he improved tense interactions between “divide and conquer-style” project management – reducing time and expense.

Shortly thereafter, in 1973, “The ground started to swell … when 37,900 new jobs appeared in Colorado,” Colorado Business reported in its October 1983 anniversary issue.
To fill the homes of newly developed neighborhoods Colorado-wide, real estate companies such as RE/MAX International – established the same year – began building “a reputation of innovation,” according to Dave Liniger, co-founder and chairman of the company.

As the appeal of Colorado spread, 150-year-old Johns Manville, a manufacturer and marketer of construction supplies, relocated from New York in 1972.

In its early days, JM stepped up to the plate, as industries demanded asbestos insulation for pipes, high-temperature blast furnaces and boilers. However, later studies indicated the health risks associated with use of asbestos; consequently, JM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

With strategic repositioning and promotion of its brand – reminiscent of Boosterism in the state’s early history – JM recovered. The company continued to supply its niche market with construction materials, yet explored emerging technology to meet the demands of customers concerned with indoor air quality.

Whether inside or outside, “the ability to have natural, recreational amenities within an hour or two changes your mindset,” Koelbel said.

Since 1952, Koelbel has capitalized on revolutionary changes brought about by the expanding highway system and ubiquity of the automobile in American households. With projects such as The Preserve at Greenwood Village, Koelbel married a longstanding respect for nature with the people who benefit from its development, successfully introducing risks and rewards to Colorado community members.

“By adding infrastructural improvement, we complement the natural ingredients and quality of life we already have in the state,” said Koelbel.

On the Move …

The world outside our four walls, including 54 mountain peaks more than 14,000 feet, makes for picturesque yet challenging terrain to travers – and led to one notable business aimed at helping others pursue their lifestyle-driven destinies.

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Gigi Sukin is an Associate Editor at ColoradoBiz. She can be reached at gsukin@cobizmag.com.

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