To say narrowing down this year's roster of powerhouse female manufacturers to four nominees for Manufacturing Woman of the Year at the 2023 Colorado Manufacturing Awards was a challenge for our selection committee would be an understatement. From leaders in craft beer brewing to rocket engine manufacturing, these women are poised to inspire the next generation of females within their industries.
Founder and chief brewista of Holidaily Brewing Company in Golden, Colorado, Karen Hertz has built a craft brewery that has become the obvious choice for gluten-free beer within the southwestern U.S. -- despite the challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic and the current economic climate.
"All small business right now is up against some serious headwinds," Hertz says. "Survival with our core values intact would be success to me." This includes continuing to foster an exceptional workplace culture as well as maintaining the quality Holidaily is known for.
"In the craft beer industry, I think it's really important to create a quality product regardless of what your business plan looks like," Hertz continues. "Different breweries have different plans, like maybe just to be a neighborhood tap room. At Holidaily, we have two tap rooms, but we want to grow and get our product out to more people who can't otherwise have a beer because they have celiac, or gluten sensitivity, or are cutting gluten out of their diet. As long as we're making great quality beer and filling that gap that we're shooting to fill, I think that's success."
Hertz would like other women contemplating careers in manufacturing to know that there may have never been a better time to explore these opportunities. "Manufacturing is really about innovation," she says, "and there is so much innovation going on right now. I think a lot of that is due to women getting into the manufacturing workforce and coming up with fresh, new ideas and new perspectives."
The CEO of Armite Lubricants in Lafayette, Colorado, Kathy Sandstrum took the helm of her family's 95-year-old chemical manufacturing business after her father unexpectedly passed away in 2018. "My husband and I stepped in, did a bunch of due diligence, and decided we would purchase [the company] from my mom," she explains.
The first couple of years were tough -- in part because the company was located in California and the couple's other business, a private law practice, was in Colorado. "We were going back and forth, trying to do both," Sandstrum continues. "Luckily, we had some key employees that were very good at their jobs. They were able to hold down the operations and production, and we took over the leadership of the company. After that first year, we decided we needed to move the company to Colorado."
Armite Lubricants opened the doors of its new manufacturing facility in Colorado in February of 2020. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. "It was a really difficult time because we make military spec and commercial spec chemicals that are used for maintenance in the aerospace and aviation industry," Sandstrum says. "Nobody was traveling during COVID. Airplanes were grounded, and nothing was getting maintained."
Though the company lost about 50 percent of its revenue that year, the downtime enabled Sandstrum and her team to pursue AS9100 certification -- putting Armite Lubricants on a level playing field with its competitors. "We also got certified with the Department of Defense for our cybersecurity," Sandstrum continues. "And we had our best revenue year ever in 2022."
President of Munro Companies in Grand Junction, Colorado, Katie Munro Powell is steering her family’s 58-year-old pump manufacturer towards a modernized future. "I'm very proud that we recently have been approved for ISO 9001, which is a big accomplishment, especially for a small, longstanding manufacturer," she says. "When you have these longstanding practices, getting them into a really awesome quality management system takes a lot of work. Our team worked incredibly hard doing that, and it has made us a better company."
Long-term success for Munro Companies within the irrigation industry -- and specifically, the landscape irrigation industry -- looks like becoming a leader in manufacturing and promoting products that prevent water waste. Munro Powell explains, "Water is a really important input for irrigation. If we're helping our customers to understand the right product, which means the right pressure at the right flow, so that we're not wasting anything, that's very important."
What would Munro Powell like the next generation of women workers to know about manufacturing careers? "It's an exciting field to be in no matter what you're making," she responds. "It's an area where we can really contribute. You can have a big impact on the company that you're serving, the industry that you're in, and your community as well."
Senior Director of Manufacturing at Ursa Major Technologies in Berthoud, Colorado, Nancy Cable is focused on building lean production systems that allow the aerospace manufacturer to scale and deliver as rapidly as possible.
"In my team, we're hands-on every day with engine hardware, with models of the drawings, with the build technicians in the test cells, really moving processes forward, solving problems, and implementing things in a better, more scalable way," she explains. "We're also embedding in with the development programs so we can get more manufacturable products and processes sooner."
In her year with the company, Cable has grown the manufacturing engineering team from four to 19 and helped to triple the company's production rate of its Hadley engine. "That's our 5,000-pound thrust class engine," Cable says. "And we've done that through a lot of heroics and grit. But what's allowing us to keep that pace moving forward is the fact that, along with the heroics, we've really been able to stabilize some of our processes and implement continuous improvement that allows it to not feel like such a push as we scale even beyond the production rate we're at now."
A recent successful hot fire campaign on Ursa Major's Ripley -- a 50,000-pound thrust class engine -- and continued development of Arroway -- a new 200,00-pound thrust class engine -- keep the company moving forwards. "Success is really going to look like being able to stably deliver on the solutions we have while also being ahead enough that we can deliver solutions to the market in half the time of traditional engine development cycles," Cable adds. "By this time next year, we expect to have at least one more propulsion product line beyond our current combustion engines."
Join us on the afternoon of Thursday May 11 for the CMA Gala & Winners Reveal to celebrate one of America's most compelling manufacturing outposts.