Follow industry’s lead to put the goods-producing sector on the fast-track

Nov 19, 2013

Behind great brands are often stories of astute decision-making at pivotal times. Osprey, a growing Colorado company and respected global lifestyle brand based in Cortez, was at a crossroads early in life, choosing to stay in business by moving its manufacturing operations offshore. Now a “mature” brand (read Osprey’s profile), the company hopes to build on its success and relocate at least some of its future manufacturing operations here. A difficult decision has in the end paid dividends, with more to come.

A similar moment played out for Pasta Fresca’s management in 2003, when as Eric Peterson describes in his CompanyWeek profile, the Boulder company ‘pivoted to its brand-partner model’. The move fundamentally changed the company, putting Fresca Foods on a path to fast growth. It’s also having a profound impact on the industry.

As Executive VP Liz Myslik describes it, "Fresca's model is to take on products with an established demand” – to become a 'supply-chain' partner with growing food companies by providing manufacturing and production capabilities that Myslik says often inhibit growth. The arrangement allows partners to focus on things like driving sales, on marketing, on brand extension.

In retrospect, it was a brilliant idea - the right business strategy at the right time. A company was essentially reinvented and in the process became a much-needed engine for industry growth, providing key services to other growth-minded companies. Fresca’s innovation has helped shape the national reputation Colorado now enjoys as an epicenter for growth in the natural foods industry.

Fresca’s model should inspire similar thinking in other manufacturing sectors here. In the maker and manufacturing space, visionaries and entrepreneurs often bring a singular expertise or passion to a business idea but lack skills or resources needed to scale beyond start-up.

It’s easy to envision a Fresca Foods-like approach in apparel and other soft goods – like packs – where Colorado’s brightest design and lifestyle entrepreneurs might lean on a cut-and-sew operation that provides critical early-and-mid stage manufacturing help. Or, a forward-thinking financier might consider a ‘MFG Fund’ to capitalize small business. The need for sustaining financing remains acute.

But if Colorado believes a growing manufacturing base is key to more sustainable economic growth, to higher middle-class wages, to economic development tied to industry attributes unique to the state, then risk-taking is better than losing jobs and influence offshore.

Those who support or service the region’s goods-producing sector would do well to emulate the inspired leadership we’re witnessing in maker and manufacturing businesses and take bold steps to move it forward. Focusing even more sharply on entrepreneurs poised to grow who nevertheless are in need of operational help would be one such step. Only good things will follow.

Bart Taylor is Founder and Publisher of CompanyWeek.