Made in Colorado 2015: Take 5
T.A. Pelsue Company
Who: The late T.A. Pelsue got the company started by inventing a watertight manhole ring in the 1960s. Today his son, Brad Pelsue, is CEO and the company has about 100 employees in Englewood and Lamar.
Today the company makes a wide range of safety equipment, including heavy-duty work shelters, ventilators and fall-arrest equipment. “Our mission is on the wall of everybody’s office: ‘Our job is to make your job safer and easier,’” says VP of Sales Christian Miller. “That’s really what we do.”
Boom times: After closing their facility in Lamar, where the company made fiber-optic splicing trailers, Pelsue reopened it with a dozen employees in 2014. “We shuttered it for two years, then we had a great 2013,” says Miller. “We had an even better 2014.”
Why Colorado: “I think that gives us the ability to react faster to special requests from our customers,” says Miller. “We can make changes very quickly and we don’t have to wait for a container from overseas.”
Who: Clive Smith invented a better stethoscope in 2003. “Stethoscopes had not been improved since they were invented 200 years ago,” he says.
Innovation: The Thinklabs One digital stethoscope reimagines the archetypal device with a headphone jack that integrates with iPads, smartphones and computers. “It’s very loud and very clear,” says Smith, noting that Thinklabs is making inroads against the “mega corporations” that dominate the market.
Why Colorado: After manufacturing in China for more than a decade, Thinklabs re-shored production to Colorado in early 2014 and saw sales more than double for the year. Thinklabs now utilizes 3D printers and a network of contract manufacturers largely in-state.
“One of the reasons was flexibility and the ability to innovate,” says Smith of the move. “You can change design and improve things very rapidly. Innovation gets slowed down by offshore
W.H. Ranch Dungarees
Who: Ryan Martin has been making jeans to order from raw denim since 2012. Priced at $335 and largely sold to European customers, W.H. Ranch Dungarees are the rare luxury good that double as durable work wear—one rancher wore his pair daily for months without serious damage.
Inspirations: Family and the mass market. “My mom’s a fifth-generation pattern maker and sewer,” says Martin “My jeans definitely have a Lee influence.”
Toughness, technique and style: “Heirloom” skills Martin learned from his mother and grandmother. For the latter, sewing “was a matter of survival” during the Dust Bowl,” he adds. “You made your own clothes and you darn well better make them built to last.”
Utilizing small runs of raw denim from Japan, the attention to detail in a pair of W.H. Ranch Dungarees also stands out. “Everything is cleanly made – the jeans look as good on the inside as they do on the outside,” he says. “I’ve been known to rip out an entire inseam because one stitch was a little wonky.” As for the Western style, he adds, “I just made what I wanted to wear.”
Why Colorado: The market’s not local, but the quality of life is. “We just love Berthoud. It’s a nice little Mayberry town.”
Next: Thanks to a 10-week backlog, operations are expanding with the help of a Los Angeles cut-and-sew facility with 1950s-era machinery. Martin’s handmade process will remain in Berthoud as W.H. Ranch Origins, and the factory-made jeans will retail for $220.
Who: The Wisdom family operated carnivals in Colorado for more than 50 years, but their company has focused manufacturing trailer-mounted carnival rides and most anything else on wheels since the late 1960s. Fourth-generation owner Victor Wisdom now runs the 60-employee company near Sterling.
Innovation: “We specialize in designing equipment that is not normally very portable,” says Wisdom. “We make it into something that’s easier to move.”
This all started with a better Ferris wheel a half-century ago – the old way required five burly guys and four or five hours to set up. Wisdom’s fan-like version would go up in an hour or so with two people.
Now: In the decades since, the company has made not only Sizzlers and Gravitrons, but also everything from drilling equipment to flight simulators, not to mention about 400 roller coasters, more than any other company on Earth. On the drawing board: 210-foot wind towers that won’t require a crane to erect and portable operating rooms.