Made in Colorado 2015
As far as gerunds go, manufacturing is a pretty broad one. In Colorado alone, it encompasses robotic welding, machining and plating parts of all kinds, fermenting grains, distilling mash, cutting, sewing, carving, curds, whey, you name it.
The origin of the word says it all: Manufacturing is derived from the Latin manu factum: made by hand.
Of course, it’s not just hands anymore. It’s minds and machines and computers and centuries of time-tested techniques that are often passed down from generation to generation. It’s a diverse industry with one common thread: Every sector is visceral. Tangible. These companies make things.
And manufacturing is trending up in both Colorado and the U.S. at large. Companies are reluctant to offshore production any longer with rising costs and a loss of control. The time it takes to ship a container on a slow boat from China is an eternity for some of the more fickle markets.
The total output of Colorado manufacturers jumped from $20 billion in 2012 to $21.6 billion in 2013, according to data from the National Association of Manufacturers, a galloping 8 percent clip — and that’s before the economy really got rolling in late 2014.
This most recent state tally meant manufacturing made up for 7.3 percent of gross state product, $7.9 billion of it in exports (or about 90 percent of Colorado’s total exports). This emanated from just 5.6 percent of the state’s total jobs, more than 150,000 workers in all. And these jobs pay quite nicely, about $80,000 a year on average, or roughly $30,000 more than the non-farm mean income for the state.
Small is big
For Colorado in 2015, neighborhood breweries, small-batch manufacturers of clothing and bacon and whiskey, and other micro-makers are flourishing.
At the same time, big is going small. Massive manufacturers like Ball Corp. are increasingly working with small breweries. There’s plenty of opportunity in the supply chain to provide local ingredients for end products gobbled up by a market that’s increasingly keeping it in-state.
The supply chain is coming back with work force, as manufacturing supports upward of 100,000 jobs that are dependent on the sector in Colorado.
While there’s a concerted push by all levels of government to attract advanced manufacturing, the smaller, craftier makers shouldn’t be ignored. With nearly 300 breweries, 60-plus distilleries, and craft manufacturers making everything from ice cream sandwiches to pinball games, small batch reigns in Colorado.
The Web has allowed small businesses to sell to a worldwide market. Makers can live wherever they want, and Colorado hits a quality-of-life sweet spot for many.
For larger companies, the state has good logistics and infrastructure with a central location on major freight routes, relatively low land and labor costs, and an economy that’s helping set the pace for the nation.
It follows that Colorado can really shine in the bigger picture of the national manufacturing resurgence. As the comeback accelerates, we are in an enviable position to grab a big chunk of manufacturing as it gets re-shored, restarted, and reinvented.
Who: Travis Hetman and Bill Manke shared a love of pinball that led to an art project and was spun off into an entrepreneurial endeavor. Manke’s the woodworker and Hetman hand-paints the playfield.
What: The duo’s “craft pinball” melds the mechanical and the mental. “It’s a pinball game with board game rules,” says Manke.
Next: Their original BearClaw model ($695) is complemented by a series of smaller bagatelle games ($125). Expect two new full-size models by the end of 2015.
Soothing chaos: Manke calls Boxwood a “soothing” alternative to the sensory overload of most pinball games. But there’s still a hint of entropy, thanks in no small part to a few well-placed magnets. “Anything can happen in a pinball game,” he says.
Who: Originally known as Capacitor Company, Capco moved from Texas to Colorado in the 1970s and transitioned from electronics to cutting and machining metal in the 1980s. The 250-employee company has been a prime contractor for the Department of Defense for more than 20 years.
Innovation: The company’s M192 machine gun mount won the Soldier’s Choice award from the U.S. Army in 2006. Noted Defense Industry Daily of shaving 6.5 pounds off the mount: “If you don’t think that’s pretty great, try carrying one around for about 10 miles.”
Next: Capco has won about $3 million in research grants since 2010. “We’re doing some pretty aggressive research into obscurants, nanoparticulates, and nanostructures,” says VP of Operations Eric Goertz. “We’re growing and looking to hire in 2015.”
Why Colorado: “Every time I travel for business,” says Goertz, “I come home and always comment to people, ‘I know why I live here.’” He says the company works four 10-hour shifts and takes three-day weekends. “It gives everybody lots of time to play.”
Who: Ben Frohlichstein and Stacey Marcellus started making gluten-free pasta from almond flour in 2011. Three years later their 11-employee company’s sales topped $1 million.
Paleo boom: Riding the crest of the Paleo wave, Cappello’s doubled its retail footprint to 400 stores by launching into Whole Foods locations in the Northeast and the Pacific West in early 2015. “It’s a pretty substantial uptick in production,” says Frohlichstein.
Next: Now offering four packaged pastas, Cappello’s is introducing new smaller sizes of its cookie dough in 2015.
Why Colorado: “It’s been awesome because the consumer base here is looking for products like ours,” says Frohlichstein. “It makes a great testing ground for us.”
Who: Lyle Small started the company in his dorm room at Cornell University in 1993 and relocated the now 53-employee company to the Rockies. Chief Marketing Officer Pat Edson worked for Coors for 25 years before coming to CTI in 2012.
The Silver Bullet’s Blue Boost: CTI’s blue mountains that appear on cold Coors Light cans proved a game changer. Coors Light leapfrogged Budweiser into the No. 2 spot and gained hundreds of millions of dollars in sales since the ink’s introduction in 2006. “With 3.5 billion cans shipped worldwide, it’s tough to beat,” says Edson. “It’s a radical success.”
New markets: Food safety and financial security, including anti-fraud checks that change colors twice with the right friction.
Next: Photochromic ink that changes color in the sun, thermochromic and photochromic plastics, and technology that will allow aluminum cans to communicate with iPhones. “There’s a lot going on with how we get our chemistry to talk to mobile,” says Edson.
David Rasmussen Design Group
Who: David Rasmussen started building high-end tree houses before shifting his focus to custom furniture and cabinetry in 2006. Now his 11-employee shop in Carbondale turns out a wide range of kitchen products in barware—think wooden martini glasses and colorful cutting boards – between furniture and cabinet jobs.
Retail and custom: He’s selling the houseware products through accounts like Uncommon Goods and TJ Maxx, and makes custom creations for such clients as Kate Spade and Calvin Klein. “There’s not a lot of companies doing quite what we do,” says Rasmussen of the latter business. “They have a hard time finding manufacturers that will do smaller runs.”
Growth curve: After doubling in 2013, sales grew at a 50 percent clip last year. Rasmussen says he’s fine with “crazy” growth hitting a more moderate pace. “At this point, it’s like slowly turning up the volume.”
Why Colorado: “One of the benefits is the dry climate,” Rasmussen says. “We’ve never had issues with the wood splitting or cracking, which is a common issue with wooden products made in more humid climates.”
Denver Machine Shop
Who: In business for 99 years, Denver Machine Shop has always been a family business. Co-owners and brothers Eric and Scott White’s great-grandfather started the 25-employee company in 1916 in downtown Denver. In 2013, Denver Machine Shop moved to its fourth location, a 30,000-square-foot shop in Henderson.
Why: Keeping old machinery alive. “There’s a lot of businesses that were created in Colorado around the turn of the century,” says Eric, the company’s CEO. “A lot of that machinery is still being used.” Denver Machine Shop makes custom parts for steel mills, elevators and mining equipment, among other things.
A dying breed: “There’s very few people in Colorado in this industry,” says Eric. The company’s resilience is paying dividends: Sales grew by 25 percent in 2014 and are forecast to hit the same mark in 2015. “The secret to our longevity is being able to flex with the marketplace,” says Eric.
But the requisite skills – and tools – are getting harder to find, and often passed down from generation to generation. “We’ve got sons working out of their fathers’ toolboxes,” says Eric.