Best of 2018 California Manufacturing

By Bart Taylor | Dec 12, 2018

CompanyWeek editor Eric Peterson's must-read Best of Manufacturing 2018 summary this week aptly describes the emerging maker economy throughout the western U.S.:

"The connective tissue is ingenuity. Sometimes, it's simply about efficiency in the face of a flood of imports. Other times, it's about rethinking an entire category from the ground up. And in rare cases, it's about creating something nobody has ever seen before."

California's sector looks up at no other state in the Union, so it’s simply left to me to compile a list from this year's coverage that reflect what Peterson articulates. We featured nearly 80 California manufacturers this year, all exemplary in their own right. Here’s a short list of companies that represent the group with distinction.

URB-E: Cycle and scooter manufacturing has largely been sent offshore, but a vanguard of designers, engineers and tinkerers are embracing domestic builds, and the results are spectacular. The spectrum of work is wide, from full-on composite frame manufacturing to assembly only, but celebrating any or all the fabricating and wrench-turning seems equally appropriate. Grant Delgatty's head-turning scooters are only slightly more compelling than the cool "factory" that churns them out.

Imperial Commercial Cooking Equipment

Who doesn't love a top-of-the-line appliance made in the U.S. and not, well, anywhere else? At one point brands like Whirlpool and Maytag were poster children for American industrial might and aptitude. I couldn't get enough of Peter Spenuzza's family business from the time the story was filed.

Cayson Design and Betabrand

sewer at Betabrand

technician at Cayson Design

Apparel manufacturing is tethered to cut-and-sew production, a process that looks much like it did a half-century ago. America stopped training or recruiting qualified labor about the same time, so local brands that manage to develop and sustain cut-and-sew staffs are truly remarkable businesses. Cayson Designs in San Francisco is one such company.

It's why the sector also begs for innovation in any form, and Betabrand's unique crowd-based model of prototype to small batch to volume production has catapulted the company to substantial size and influence.

Deering Banjo Company

Manufacturing is at times industry and art, and when family generations manage to sustain the combination in musical instruments like a Deering Banjo, the results demand our respect and awe. That Gregg Deering manages to prosper in the face of offshore competition is testament to his craftmanship and our willingness to pay more for quality and a rich story.

Vortex Engineering

I'm a sucker for bending, cutting, and welding, dating I'm sure to my grandfather's shop in central Kansas. He welded it all, from farm implements to truck axles. Today's job shops are at once far removed from Comfort Garage, and not. Vortex Engineering is one of a brilliant new cadre of California contract manufacturers finding a second wind in OEM supply chains like Northrop Grumman's that demand lower tolerances and faster delivery. But Michael Bice's shop also earns its stripes by handling difficult work worthy of a true throwback. Cue the sparks.

Jan Al Cases

The story. The rock stars. The craftmanship. The quality. I was enthralled from the first read. As you will be.