CompanyWeek at one year: Inspiring and intrepid, manufacturing companies are the story

By Bart Taylor | Sep 01, 2014

CompanyWeek is a year old this week. Last September we set out to do something different, to report on the manufacturing economy through the people and companies that comprise it. We profiled nearly 150 businesses and what a sector it is. Looking back, the companies are the story.

We’ve been inspired by Springs Fabrication’s role in the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan; Sparkfun’s commitment to educating a new generation of science and tech-minded kids; of Brian Burney’s connection to place, to Oliver Manufacturing’s La Junta homebase; by the ingenuity of entrepreneurs like Matt Vincent of Ska Brewing/Fabricating and the flat-out inventiveness of Dave and Jenny Hall of Glideware.

We’re awestruck by Colorado’s natural and organic food business. By Fresca Foods, who transformed an industry 18 years ago with a manufacturing innovation and today is led by stars like Todd Dutkin and Liz Myzlik; by Richard Lappen’s new gig Natural Food Works. By Boulder Soup Works to Rudi’s Organic Bakery to Hope Food’s missile tubes to 34 Degrees to New York transplant pure elizabeth, whose intrepid namesake Elizabeth Stein packed up this year to move to the ‘50-yard line’ of the industry.

It’s impossible not to respect the stalwarts of the trade and business acumen of Noel Ginsburg of Intertech Plastics, of Bill Newland at Hercules Industries, Marcia Coulson at Eldon James, Doug Rhoda at Wolf Robotics and Scott Sullivan at Grand Junction’s global star Reynolds Polymer. Many, if not all, are working to make sure their coattails are long for those who want to follow.

The beautiful slice of the region’s manufacturing economy is the passion of entrepreneurs like Trent Johnson at Greeley Hat Works, Chrissy Rogers of Spinelli’s and Julie Nirvelli of White Girl Salsa. Of Brian Dunn at Great Divide, Karen Hoskin of Montanya Distillers and Mike Koenig of Studio Shed. And small business doesn’t corner the market. Tom Cycyota started our meeting with a moving, half-hour story about an Allosource organ donor. Cycycota leads one Colorado’s most successful and unique manufacturers with the passion of a much smaller company.

Compared to the youthfulness of craft beer and natural foods, manufacturing is dotted with powerful family legacies, of compelling generational stories like RK Mechanical and Denver’s Polidori Sausage, that Ana Polidori, great-grandmother of current vice president Melodie Polidori Harris, opened in 1925. CEO Donn Schaible takes great care in maintaining Eagle Claw’s connection to Lee McGill and the Wright & McGill Co. Colorado legacy.

Bob Walker’s father Max began building mowing machines in the 1970’s. Today, Walker Manufacturing is a source of pride not only for the Walker family but for northern Colorado. Pride is the operative sentiment as Paul Harter leads a tour of Aqua-Hot in Frederick, who’s clearly gratified by continuing Hap Enander’s business legacy but immensely proud of the new company he’s building.

Builders share space in the economy with manufacturers - they both make things - and the ‘built environment’ is intrigued with the new manufacturing economy. One of our objectives over the next year is to profile the buildings and spaces of GE Johnson and others that will house a next-generation of makers and manufacturers - maker spaces that in the coming years should increasingly co-locate among retail, residential and service - modern ‘clusters’ that comprise a 2st century economy.

Visionary public-sector leaders get the value of maker businesses. They’ll take a lead from Denver’s OED, from Ogden’s city leaders, who envision a cycling manufacturing hub and Utah’s legislature, who created the position of Director of Outdoor Recreation to manage the state’s outdoor brand to the benefit of lifestyle manufacturers. This in contrast to the wretched public stewardship on display in Colorado Springs, where an ugly mayor/city council dustup selfishly hamstrings business; and Castle Rock, my hometown, where city government squanders the community’s hard-earned family-oriented brand in favor of the economic development attributes of Dodge City, circa 1880.

But the doers far exceed the obstructionists in the Rocky Mountain region. Powerful, sustaining business rationale are driving U.S. manufacturing back onshore and domestic manufacturers and supply-chain partners together again. Within five years, a more connected manufacturing economy, redefined as a modern and lucrative sector, will be shaping regional economic activity like never before.

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As our crusade enters its second year, with new markets like Utah among the opportunities, I’d like to thank Robinson, Webb, and Rothe for a runway and Kalkwarf and Popeil for a push; Severson and Myzlik for genuine enthusiasm and encouragement; Bugnitz for a true north; Maraschin and Goertz because they paid attention from the western slope; Neppl, Newland, and Lee because they didn’t say no; and Bingham for saying simply, yes.

CompanyWeek is Eric Peterson and Chris Meehan, Becky Hurley and Mike Dano, Tamara O’Dell, Valarie Johnson and occasionally, Jeff Rundles. It’s Carrie Nicholson, Jessica Thomas and Doug Hunley. It’s Michael DeJager. It’s Jonathan Castner’s visuals, along with those of Cat Mayer, Judson Pryanovitch, and Scott DW. Smith, Michelle Goodall and Sara Hertwig. It’s also AJ’s daily burden. CompanyWeek is their work.

On to the next 150!