2020 Made in Colorado
Profiling ten companies that demonstrate the art and science of making it in Colorado
Photo by Jeff Nelson.
Job growth in manufacturing is slowing down in the Centennial State, according to the 2020 Colorado Business Economic Outlook from the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business.
The report predicts that the state’s ongoing manufacturing expansion, buoyed by craft beverage, natural foods, outdoor gear and cutting-edge tech, will slow to 1% job growth after tracking at about twice that rate for several years running.
There’s been some doomsaying and trepidation going into 2020, but there is still plenty of upside for manufacturers in Colorado. The offshore-leaning model has been pushed past its usefulness in many industries, especially those that put a premium on speed and flexibility. Tariff wars also move the needle on the decision of where to manufacture.
In many cases, it’s even less expensive to make a higher-quality product right here in Colorado. That typically makes manufacturing a no-brainer.
As we crest into the third decade of the new millennium, pour yourself a Colorado craft beer, wine, spirit, mead, kombucha, soda or cider, and toast the state’s makers and manufacturers as they machine, mold, cut, bend, brew, bake and otherwise shape raw materials into higher-value products. It’s alchemy: Art and magic meet science and engineering.
For the ninth edition of Made in Colorado, we're profiling 10 companies that demonstrate the art and science of making it in the state. Read on to learn more about these Colorado makers and manufacturers:
Plus, check out the winners and finalists from ColoradoBiz magazine's annual Made in Colorado:
FOOD & BEVERAGE
GRATEFUL BREAD CO. | GOLDEN
Founder Jeff Cleary has baking in his blood.
He opened his first bakery in his Pennsylvania hometown in 1985 when he was 15.
After studying culinary arts and working at and opening a variety of restaurants, he came full circle when he started Grateful Cabin in a cabin in Evergreen in 2005. “Flour bags are pretty comfortable when you’re tired,” Cleary laughs.
Now 51, Cleary has come a long way. His first ovens cost less than $1,000. His most recent one was $90,000.
His 22-employee bakery that he runs with his wife, Kathy Mullen, eschews automation in favor of artisanship. It’s an approach that requires patience: The sourdough takes three full days to make, beginning with 20-year-old starter named Bob. It also requires punctuality: Restaurants often receive deliveries an hour after bread is pulled from the oven.
Notes Mullen: “Jeff said from the very beginning, ‘Quality comes first and everything else would follow.’”
The laser focus has led to a waiting list of hundreds of restaurants (the bakery currently supplies about 50) and a thriving retail operation that draws lines of 250 people on Saturdays.
COLORADO CANDY CO. | FORT COLLINS
Candyman John Buoniconti uses vintage machinery to make ribbon candy and other ornate delicacies that look as good as they taste.
TEAKOE | DENVER
It’s all about attention to detail at the craft tea maker, from sustainable, organic, ethically sourced ingredients to proprietary brewing techniques. In 2019, Teakoe added a line of canned “fizzy tea” to the catalog to complement its bagged and whole-leaf varieties.
Image courtesy of Brewability Lab.
BREWABILITY LAB | ENGLEWOOD
As a special education teacher and program director, Tiffany Fixter found her students had few opportunities in the real world. “I found there was a lack of employment options,” she says.
So she started Brewability Lab 2016 and created some jobs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Then she started a restaurant, Pizzability, in 2018 and created even more jobs.
In 2019, Brewability moved from northeast Denver to a more pedestrian-friendly location in Englewood, and Pizzability will soon re-open in the same building after losing its lease in Cherry Creek.
The brewery’s staff has doubled to 10 employees since the move, as the events calendar has similarly grown with a range of inclusive and family-friendly events. Menus come in braille and large fonts, and beers are color-coded to help bridge any communication barriers. “We want [the brewery] to be the community hub of accessibility,” Fixter says.
WINE PUNTS | COLORADO SPRINGS
Since 2006, the company has turned wine bottles into stylish glassware, with a social conscience to match by hiring people who need a second chance.
SPINSTER SISTERS CO. | GOLDEN
Kelly Perkins’ “microsoapery” has grown steadily since 1994 by putting natural ingredients, a transparent supply chain and community and culture front and center.
Image courtesy of Bye Aerospace.
BYE AEROSPACE | CENTENNIAL
Now 62, George Bye says he knew he wanted to be a pilot when he was 8 years old. He did just that and flew in the Air Force before working for companies like Boeing and Raytheon in the private sector.
His career trajectory changed when he got to test-drive an early Tesla, which led him to pursue electric aircraft when he founded his namesake company in 2008.
The company’s 12-year R&D journey is now coming to fruition in a big way: Quantum Air and OSM Aviation Group jointly ordered 160 of Bye Aerospace’s eFlyers in January 2020. Bye Aerospace will launch manufacturing this year in Centennial and start delivering the aircraft in 2021.
Designed for flight schools, the all-electric eFlyer is “five-fold less expensive” to fly, Bye says, noting that the cost of flight time is the biggest expense for schools and students alike. “There’s a big market problem that needs to be solved.”
Next up: SOLESA, a solar-electric, unmanned aircraft designed to fly indefinitely in full sunlight.
TITAN ROBOTICS | COLORADO SPRINGS
Founder and CEO Clay Guillory’s maker of super-sized 3D printers has opened up a new scale of additive manufacturing for industrial customers.
SIERRA NEVADA CORP.'S SPACE SYSTEMS | LOUISVILLE
The company will put the final touches on the Dream Chaser in Colorado this year in preparation for its first cargo deliveries to the International Space Station in 2021.
YORK SPACE SYSTEMS | DENVER
With one satellite in orbit and another two under construction, York Space Systems will more than triple its annual manufacturing capacity to 50 small satellites by year’s end.
“We’re very excited about it,” CEO Dirk Wallinger says, describing a “turnkey solution” from design to manufacturing to launch.
The price tag on a York satellite is an “order of magnitude” lower (say, $3 million instead of $30 million), and the company’s “delivery times are unheard of,” Wallinger notes (say, three months instead of “decades”).
York’s growth parallels the track of the small satellite industry as a whole. Since the company launched in 2015, there have been around 50 launches a year. Wallinger predicts that number will jump past 200 in 2020. “We’re seeing that trend continue at a giant scale,” he says.
SYSTEM76 | DENVER
Founder and CEO Carl Richell has taken the road less traveled for computer makers by manufacturing in-house in the U.S. with his open-source innovator.
SOLID POWER | LOUISVILLE
The lithium-ion innovator flipped the switch on its first production line in 2019, with the end goal of providing safer, cheaper and better batteries for major electric vehicle manufacturers all over the world.
Photo by Jeff Nelson.
MEYER SKIS | DENVER
Owner Ted Eynon moved the world’s first and only “craft skiery” to a new location on South Broadway in Denver in summer 2019, with catalytic results. “It brings us a lot more visibility, a lot more accessibility to [residential neighborhoods],” he says. “Our old location had no neighborhoods.”
The 6,300-square-foot ski factory is visible via a window behind a bar made of the same all-Colorado wood used in Meier Skis: high-alpine aspen, Douglas fir, and lodgepole pine. It’s the centerpiece of a slick showroom that usually has a couple of local craft beers on tap for customers.
“It’s locally harvested wood, it’s eco-friendly materials where possible, using a bioresin-based epoxy,” Eynon says. “We use less ink on the topsheets. That allows the natural beauty of the wood and the workmanship to show through the skis.”
Founded in Glenwood Springs in 2010, the company offers the ability to customize skis and snowboards and allows custom designs. Meier makes branded skis with partners ranging from CU and Metro State to Widespread Panic and Leftover Salmon.
PRECISION PEAKS | LEADVILLE
Peter Frykholm uses a CNC milling machine to sculpt iconic mountains and geological anomalies out of beetlekill pine, with dazzling results.
DAVID RASMUSSEN DESIGN | CARBONDALE
The commitment to craft, function and simple design shines through in the eponymous founder’s line of wood products for the kitchen, bar and home.
Plus, don't miss this year's Made in Colorado 100. To view the list, click here.