Special guests at last month's Pitch Slam & Autumn Awards included stakeholders from San Francisco's dynamic food scene, in Colorado to learn more about Naturally Boulder, the trade association that’s been so instrumental in vaulting the state's natural and organic products sector to national renown.
And why not? Colorado's ascendant, nationally recognized food and beverage sector is leading a regional charge in nondurable goods manufacturing. Nondurable goods employment increased in Colorado by 2.6 percent in 2016 and is expected to post a 2.1 percent gain in 2017, averaging about 53,300 workers for the year, led by food and beverage.
The sector pales in size to California's global food juggernaut, but those in San Francisco and elsewhere see the obvious: tightening up food communities and providing early-stage companies better access to resources will only accelerate growth, keep promising food brands local, and enable the entire ecosystem to better respond to the demand from consumers wanting natural and organic products from local providers. Naturally Boulder has emerged as a national model.
Part of it is the power of networks. Events like Pitch Slam are must-go gatherings that today attract investors, economic developers, and other service professionals that promising early-stage companies inevitably need to thrive. As a result, the network becomes a magnet for entrepreneurs.
San Francisco's no stranger to this dynamic in manufacturing. SF Made is a bright national beacon among regional associations advocating for companies that comprise the modern manufacturing economy -- or legacy brands that have led the way. Today we profile McRoskey Mattress Company, an SF Made member and proud California manufacturer with roots in the 19th century.
But as we’re seeing today in Colorado, focus pays dividends. And even then, the speed with which industry sectors transform can leave behind even the most agile brands.
With the help of a tight, collaborative community, companies like EVOL, LARABAR, and Justin's pushed through exits that enriched owners and within the span of a decade, changed the national conversation about food. Just as quickly, the market has changed again.
Today, even with food-focused investment funds camped out in Colorado alongside a cadre of Wall Street veterans and family offices, the game is suddenly harder. Harder for brands to get funded; harder for early-stage brands to get shelf space at Whole Foods; and harder for entrepreneurs to sell industrial brands, today much more knowledgeable and invested in innovation, on the benefits of acquisition.
It’s why associations or groups that build community and educate, incubate and accelerate companies can make all the difference. It must be why industry mavens from San Francisco see value in a trade group in Colorado, despite California's unmatched resume for food and agriculture.
Besides, even with brands conceived in 1899 in San Francisco still leading the way, much about today's manufacturing is just being learned.
Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.