Made in Colorado 2015: Take 4

Laws Whiskey House


Who: Al Laws teamed with ex-Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey distiller Jake Norris to create premium whiskey concocted with barley grown by family farms in Colorado.

No shortcuts: The bourbon aged for a full 34 months before it hit the market in fall 2014. In an environment where many upstart distilleries buy pre-aged spirits and slap on their label, the patient approach has paid off. Batch #1 sold out in eight weeks, as did Batch #2. Batch #3 was bottled in early 2015. “It’s who we are,” touts Laws. “I think we can match Maker’s Mark and everybody else.”

Next: The distillery’s rye whiskey is due for release in June 2015. But aging more than 1,000 barrels of whiskey requires real estate. By year’s end, “We’ll have no space left,” says Laws.

Why Colorado: The market is primarily Colorado, plus New York,
New Jersey, Chicago, and San Francisco. “We don’t need to be anywhere else,” Laws explains. “We haven’t even dented Colorado yet. We want to dominate this state.”

“What I find about Colorado more than any other place is this intense passion for what’s in their state,” he adds. “They’re doers here. People don’t just talk about it – they do it.”

Lockheed Martin Space Systems


Who: Lockheed Martin VP and Orion Program Manager Mike Hawes touts the Orion crew module as NASA’s first step to Mars. Lockheed is the prime contractor on the project, successfully tested last December, and Centennial-based United Launch Alliance built the rocket that took the capsule 3,600 miles above Earth.

A deep labor pool: Space-related jobs in Colorado – 170,000 to be exact – are up nearly 20 percent in the last decade. “Behind every great technology advancement are dedicated, talented and hardworking people who drive innovation everyday,” say Hawes, “and we’re fortunate to have such an exceptional aerospace work force in Colorado.” Lockheed alone has about 9,000 employees in-state.

Innovation: Orion’s Colorado-made heat shield withstood temperatures twice that of molten lava during the December test, or about 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The module is designed to be deployed as many as 250,000,000 miles away from Earth – or
more than halfway to Jupiter.



Who: In 1986, Gil Brassell invented a filter that would safely vent nuclear storage containers at Rocky Flats. Nearly 30 years later, his son, Travis Brassell, is CEO of the 80-employee company spun out of that innovation.

Diversification: With a five-axis machine shop, NFT not only makes nuclear storage equipment, but has recently moved into aerospace and manufacturing automation. “There’s a lot of synergy between our divisions,” says Senior VP Terry Wickland.

Innovation: “We’ve had some of the biggest companies in the world come through our facility in the past few years,” says Wickland. “Every one of them has been blown away by what we’re doing right here in Golden, Colorado.”

Why Colorado: A skilled workforce, says Wickland. “We have some of the finest five-axis machinists in the country. Colorado just draws bright, motivated, talented people.”



Who: Founded in 2001 by Mike Evans, PLAYTIME is perhaps best known in Colorado for the iconic play area at the Cherry Creek Mall. The 60-employee company has since manufactured and installed thousands of amusement grounds at malls, restaurants, hospitals and other facilities worldwide, says COO Grant Walter.

Innovation: “We’re really the pioneer in creating unique play spaces,” says Walter. “We’ve got a world-class design team.” The company takes the team’s collective imagination and transforms it into everything from ladybugs to giraffes, sculpted from foam that’s safe, soft and antibacterial.

PLAYTIME’s proprietary foam has been ruggedized for the outdoors with the new-for-2014 PLAYTUFF products, and its structures increasingly involve interactive musical and visual elements.

Gone global: With recent installations in South Korea, China, Russia and Australia, PLAYTIME is supplying an increasingly international market. Walter says exports now represent about 20 percent of the company’s sales.

Getting Wilder: Walter says Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is his favorite movie and PLAYTIME’s rubber pump mimics it. “If you close your eyes, this sounds just like the Everlasting Gobstopper machine,” he laughs.


Premier Manufacturing


Who: President and founder Edmond Johnson launched Premier to make custom printed circuit boards (PCBs) in 2000.

Next: After 20 percent revenue growth in 2014, Johnson is looking to a booming entrepreneurial ecosystem in Colorado to catalyze more growth. He wants to partner with startups in Denver and Boulder. “The opportunity to engage is technology,” he says. “It makes for good manufacturing opportunities.”

And it works both ways. “There’s not a lot of companies left [making PCBs in Colorado],” he says. But the benefits to working with a local partner are obvious. “You have access to your manufacturing arm.”

A Plea to D.C.: Johnson says Congress needs to lower the federal tax burden on small business and implement a longer-term plan for accelerated depreciation. “It keeps us at bay,” he says. “Stop talking about it and do something about it.”