In CompanyWeek's ongoing series of interviews with business and civic leaders involved in MFG, we caught up with Jon Maraschin, Administrator of the Mesa County Manufacturer’s Council and member of the Governor’s Small Business Council.
Q: What's the role of the Mesa County Manufacturer’s Council?
The role of the MCMC (Mesa County Manufacturer’s Council) is to provide a forum to our local manufacturers that allow them to promote the interests of local manufacturing companies. This covers everything from networking, educating our community about the impact of regional manufacturing, workforce development, assessing the local capabilities and weaknesses of our manufacturers, and being the collective voice of the local industry. Our council has also been the voice of Mesa County manufacturing with the state of Colorado and instrumental in getting ISO certification for several companies in the valley.
Q: What's your assessment of overall economy in Mesa County?
Mesa County continues to struggle as a whole since our economy has historically been heavily reliant on the energy sector. Interestingly, our manufacturing sector appears to be doing quite well.
Q: That’s obviously good news for the Council. Why is MFG thriving?
It's a diverse sector, for one, from alpaca fur processing to highly advanced aerospace and defense contract manufacturing.
We have several agricultural manufacturers that seem to be doing well depending on what mother nature brings. I would classify this as the more traditional growers and processors (jams, jellies, etc.); the companies that are able to have a broad market outside of the Grand Valley are growing and thriving.
Wineries, distilleries and breweries are killing it. (editor’s note: see the PeachStreet review in this issue.) The products that are being produced on the Western Slope are just plain awesome and our local companies are being rewarded for it. I won't name names, but I happen to keep Colterris Cabernet Sauvignon on standby pretty much all the time, keep Edgewater beer in the fridge and think the vodka from PeachStreet Distillery is the best in the world. All of these companies are successful in the local and state markets and will continue to expand as quickly as they can. We have a thriving organic food industry in the Paonia/Hotchkiss area specifically because they are able to sell throughout the state.
Our aerospace sector, which is headed by Lewis Engineering, continues to grow and expand. Lewis is the epitome of smart engineering and they continue to be strongly rewarded for it.
Advanced manufacturing companies include GPD Global, Western Slope Industries, Leitner Poma, Reynolds Polymer, Western Filament, CAPCO and several other companies who have excellent products and a global market. The machine that makes the paper sleeve for your coffee was likely made by Western Slope Industries right here in Grand Junction. Capco is a cutting edge engineering company that makes our military more effective and continues to push the boundaries of what is possible. All of these companies are growing and expanding because they make some of the best products in the world.
The energy sector has been hit hard by lower prices, however, we continue to see manufacturing advances made by companies like Halliburton and WPX in our region.
The outdoor recreation sector continues to thrive and grow. We have the most diverse and technical testing ground in the world here on the western slope, which is continually used by companies like Mountain Racing Products as they innovate around the mountain and road bike industries; their suspension products are smooth as silk and tough as nails. DT Swiss continues to do amazing things in our area. Loki makes some of the best technical outerwear in the industry; we all use it because it works. If you happen to go by one of our amazing trailheads you will see most of the major cycling companies here testing their goods. I think you will continue to see the recreation industry grow as people realize that this is one of the best places in the world to innovate around their products and designs; I think this industry will take time to develop, but it will. It doesn’t hurt that we have amazing beer, wine and spirits to ease the bumps when you happen to fall off of your bike while testing the latest innovations.
Q: The Front Range/Western Slope relationship is complex, at times acrimonious. How do you assess Colorado's current economic development efforts and what can be done to better leverage the considerable assets west of the divide?
Great question. I think that, politics aside, we are all in this together and want the same things like real jobs and the Colorado lifestyle experience. The folks at OEDIT (Ken Lund, Bob Todd, Karla Tartz and Kelly Manning), have been working hard to find a way to help our economic development efforts on the Western Slope; Kelly is the best SBDC Director in the country and has enabled the Business Incubator to help 400-500 businesses a year (many of them manufacturers); Karla truly wants to help us create a Western Slope research presence for advanced manufacturing companies. I think if we truly want to take it to the next level, we need to bring the Front Range manufacturers to the Western Slope on a regular basis and help them be successful; we have a lot to offer, but we can't do it unless we continually work on a better way to collaborate. Our local manufacturers understand this and are currently working on creating a western slope manufacturing symposium, which should take place next spring.
Jon Maraschin is a Grand Valley native and recovering commercial banker who is the current Executive Director of the Business Incubator Center, Administrator of the Mesa County Manufacturer’s Council and member of the Governor’s Small Business Council. Jon is an avid cyclist and spends his free time exploring the amazing outdoors on the Western Slope. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org