The third annual Colorado Manufacturing Awards showcase the best and brightest stars from all over the state and its many manufacturing sectors.
CompanyWeek's crack writers have caught up with the 30 finalists across 10 categories to shine a light on their successes, innovations, and new initiatives. While they make everything from bourbon to spacecraft, there are common threads: dynamic growth, a commitment to quality, and a focus on innovation.
We'll showcase three or four categories per week in the run-up to the April 5 event, when winners from each category will be announced. Here's this week's list:
Outstanding Aerospace Manufacturer
By Eric Peterson
Advanced Mobile Propulsion Test, or AMPT, has been a leader in the niche of testing rocket engines for major manufacturers and federal agencies for the better part of a decade.
Now the company is looking to disrupt the market with a revolutionary low-cost thruster it plans to manufacture. "We have developed the prototype and had very good results," says founder Daudi Barnes. "We see the future for our company in actually developing engines and spacecraft systems."
The opportunity revolves around a broad sector move from big government contracts to commercial missions that demand nimbler manufacturers and less expensive technologies. "Activities in space are a hugely expanding market," says Barnes. Emerging companies "are filling in all the niches between the big players. Some of them are potentially big niches where there's an opportunity for small players to become big players. An example of that is SpaceX."
He calls the industry's evolution "the ideal manifestation of the competitive capitalist market."
AMPT won a $250,000 grant from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade in early 2018 that will be used "to refine the additive manufacturing part of the process," says Barnes. "It closes the loop to do R&D development in-house. . . . We're going to be looking at dynamic design features and testing them out."
That will make for a more manufacturable product, he adds. "We want to be able to hand off a set of machine parameters to people who could potentially do production for us."
Barnes says AMPT's thrusters could be in production and on spacecraft in the next one to three years if all goes to plan. "There's a lot of potential for growth," he notes.
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/advanced-mobile-propulsion-test
Air Comm Corporation
Founded by CEO Keith Steiner's father, Norm, in 1987, Air Comm offered a solution to a problem. "He found a lot of helicopters operated in extreme climates," says Keith. "The heating and AC systems from the factory were simply not enough to get the job done."
So Norm started making heaters and AC units for the helicopter aftermarket, but they proved popular enough that Bell and other manufacturers started offering Air Comm products as factory-available systems in the early 1990s.
The company diversified into environmental control systems for fixed-wing aircraft with the 2013 acquisition of Texas-based Keith Products. Air Comm consolidated manufacturing operations under one 53,000-square-foot roof in Westminster in 2017.
The move doubled the size of the company, says Keith, as it now employs about 100 people. It also made the company less dependent of the helicopter market, which is famously dependent on high oil prices. "It was good to add another leg to the stool," he says.
For the last five years, the Air Comm crew has been working on new systems for Cirrus Aircraft and Pilatus Aircraft. "We're now entering full-rate production for both of these aircraft," says Keith, forecasting 10 percent growth for 2018. "We're setting up a second shift. It's keeping us very busy."
Air Comm is bringing a significant piece of its supply chain in-house."We're going to be producing a line of brushless electric motors," says Keith, citing quality, timing, and price as factors in the decision. The motors will be used in Air Comm's products, but also available on the broader market.
Another recent move: Air Comm is expanding its in-house maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) operation to offer services to outside clients.
Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Space Systems
Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Space Systems has 2020 circled on the calendar. That's the year the company's Dream Chaser spacecraft is slated to arrive at the International Space Station.
"Last year, we did a flight test at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base," says Kimberly Schwandt, SNC Space Systems communications manager. "It was a beautiful sunrise in the California desert. You could not have a more majestic setting."
More importantly, the November 2017 test flight was a success. Dropped from a helicopter at 12,000 feet, the Dream Chaser glided down to Earth in a minute and performed as planned.
That test vehicle is now back in Colorado at a new 100,000-square-foot facility in Louisville where the company will manufacture the final product. "The Dream Chaser will be built there," says Schwandt.
But the Dream Chaser is not the only big project underway at SNC Space Systems. "We won a NextSTEP-2 contract with NASA," says Schwandt. The competitive project involves developing "a lunar outpost as a gateway to go deeper into space."
In 2019, the Louisville-built prototype will compete against others to win the final contract to build the structures on the Moon.
To support these big initiatives, SNC Space Systems has hired more than 100 employees since 2015; the head count in Louisville is now about 450. "We've added a lot of jobs," says Schwandt. "We're going to continue to add jobs."
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/sierra-nevada-corporations-space-systems
Outstanding Contract Manufacturer
By Bart Taylor
Faustson Tool is angling to become a two-time CMA winner, a reward that would be very much in keeping with the company's lofty accomplishments.
"We're a high-precision Colorado manufacturer that has a part on or around every planet in our system," notes Heidi Hostetter, vice president. "And, among other things, we're a sole source supplier for two critical parts on [Lockheed Martin's] F-35."
The "other things" constitute a long list. Hostetter points to NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, hemoglobin mirrors for the renal industry, the Mars Rover, and Northrop Grumman's Guardian anti-missile system as other high-profile Faustson projects. The company's stake in 3D metal printing also continues to set the company apart, including a founding role in the ADAPT Center at the Colorado School of Mines, with Manufacturer's Edge, Ball Aerospace, and others.
But for Hostetter and Faustson CEO Alicia Svaldi, slowing down to appreciate how a business overcomes challenges and manifests success in the community means as much as its impressive résumé. "We have been tenacious surviving some of the most difficult trials and tribulations that any business can face," says Hostetter. "As a result, we have definitely come to appreciate that leadership comes in your darkest hours, not your finest moments. We believe in the golden rule and we believe that our innovation efforts make leadership in technology possible, but we are also quite aware that our employees make us the company we have been and will continue to be."
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/faustson-tool
It's no surprise that Tecomet Boulder is a finalist in this strong category: Tecomet acquired Mountainside Medical, an inaugural Colorado Manufacturing Award winner, in 2016.
The company's regional legacy machining precision parts for the medical device industry is as formidable as its $1.2 billion top line. Tecomet is today the largest orthopedic contract manufacturer worldwide, with 17 plants spanning the United States, Europe, and Asia.
The challenge of maintaining a lofty regional perch in Colorado's contract manufacturing ecosystem today falls on Dave Capkovitz, Tecomet's new general manager in Boulder.
Capkovitz seems like the right person for the job. He cut his teeth in the manufacturing-rich business ecosystem throughout the Midwest, but longed for a mountain view. With Tecomet's Boulder location providing the backdrop, Capkovitz is motivated to maintain and grow his company's footprint in Colorado.
"Colorado is very important to Tecomet," says Capkovitz. "The skill level and talent that Colorado's colleges and universities are turning out is the next generation workforce that will expand future technologies in our field. Colorado is also an area where people have a strong work/personal balance in their lives. This encourages innovation and outside-of-the-box thinking that will help keep Tecomet a leader among its peers."
It's a worthy goal for a company that's demonstrating what it takes to stay on top. "Tecomet Boulder has shown growth of 25 percent over the last three years," Capkovitz says, "and is projected to grow another 89 percent over the coming five years."
For Capkovitz, the dynamic growth is a byproduct of employee engagement and customer satisfaction. "Tecomet takes pride in being a part of the lives of our valuable employees, supporting them, their families, and their communities," he says. "Our leadership is one of a culture that breeds inspiration, caring, and growth. We pride ourselves in making a difference with the patient, the customer, and our communities."
CompanyWeek profile (Mountainside Medical): www.companyweek.com/company-profile/mountainside-medical
Manes Machine and Engineering
Manes Machine and Engineering might be one of Colorado's best-kept secrets. Not for long.
"Business is very good," says President and CEO Bruce Page. "Our target market is companies like Boeing and Lockheed, but also smaller companies that are big companies in their own right, who also sell to Boeing, Lockheed, and Airbus. We have 15 to 20 companies we deal with all over the world."
Manes is also working with arguably the most innovative aerospace OEM going. "We're also getting a fair amount of work from SpaceX," says Page, referencing a Manes product on the mission in late February.
As strong as the market is today for commercial and defense-related aerospace -- Boeing and Airbus are coming off back-to-back record years, and Lockheed is poised to benefit from a bigger defense budget -- operating in the supply chain of the world's biggest aviation companies also has its challenges. "Boeing just came down with a new stipulation, where fewer suppliers will be able to participate," says Page, citing requirements for lower tolerances and higher-precision parts.
Page notes that Manes has had to reengineer its business to stay competitive in a sector that's rapidly deploying new technologies. "When we first moved here from Southern California, we were known for known for manufacturing big, structural-type parts, and that served us well," he says. "But over the last couple of years, we've made a 180-degree shift in what we're doing here. We're selling off a lot of our bigger equipment, and moving into smaller equipment that's more automated."
Automation is paying off in other ways. A new generation is taking note, important for a sector struggling to attract a new workforce. "Technology is changing the game," Page says, adding that potential employees get a "bounce in their step when they see what we're doing here."
Outstanding Small Food Brand
By Gregory Daurer
The Real Dill
Justin Park and Tyler DuBois started The Real Dill in 2012 "making pickles for fun in our home kitchen," says Park. The artisan dills quickly caught on, and the company's product line has expanded beyond pickles in the years since.
Case in point: The Real Dill's Bloody Mary Mix is now its top-selling product. It originated after Park and DuBois devised another use for the salted cucumber water they used to dispose of. After the product took off, they were forced to "reverse engineer" the cucumber byproduct, in order to have enough on hand to fulfill orders for the Bloody Mary Mix.
"We joke that we started a pickle company, but now we're really a blood mary company with a pickle problem," says Park.
The Real Dill now boasts more than 600 accounts in 35 states. "We've grown every single year," says Park. The company saw 40 percent growth in 2017 over 2016, shipping out 14,000 cases of its products. For 2018, Park projects a total of 20,000 cases. "The challenge we're constantly facing -- and having fun with -- is continuing to scale up our production, while maintaining or improving the quality of the product that we're making," he says.
With continued growth, change has come to the company: It now automates the filling and labeling of its Bloody Mary Mix. But some things remain the same: "We take a lot of pride that we make everything 100 percent from scratch," says Park.
Just like the cucumber water no longer going down the drain, the food waste isn't going into dumpsters. More than 500 pounds of vegetable scraps is diverted from the landfill weekly and used by a local nonprofit to make compost. As for becoming a "zero-food-waste company," Park says, "It was just the obvious and the right thing to do."
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/the-real-dill
Blue Moon Goodness
Kelly Strong began selling batches of her gluten-free, vegan soup to restaurants and cafes around Colorado Springs in 2013. "We jarred our first soups by hand [in January 2014]," Strong says. "We made a few cases. We ran a few dozen labels, and I presented [the soup] to City Market and King Soopers here in Colorado and they liked it."
By the end of 2014, Blue Moon Goodness was in every Kroger store in Colorado and some surrounding states. Safeway picked up the brand in 2018.
Blue Moon Goodness' soups -- Moroccan Vegetable, Tomato Fennel, and Vegan Green Chile -- are now available in 300 stores in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Utah. Strong is planning to expand the company's geographical distribution, perhaps tripling to 900 outlets by next year.
Strong says a new distributor has told her, "Nothing exciting has happened in the soup aisle in a long time." Her response? "Party in the soup aisle! I think there's a great opportunity for new packaging, new flavors, and something really different." Her jarred soups -- some organic -- have a two-year shelf life.
Strong credits the Colorado Department of Agriculture's Colorado Proud program for helping to make local products an in-demand commodity in the state. "It gave us a real opportunity," she says. "I have to admit that it wasn't just luck."
Still, she considers herself lucky in business. "Just the fact that people like my product -- that I get to make real food for real people -- it's a joy," says Strong. "It's a privilege making people happy."
Founder Jim Lamancusa had his "aha!" moment during a hike in Colorado, as he watched friends prepare their instant coffee. Lamancusa recalls thinking, "I want that! I want instant tea that actually tastes good on the trail."
But the subtle flavors within tea leaves are destroyed by high-heat dehydration, a process which works just fine for coffee beans. So Lamancusa developed new technology in order to see his dream become a reality. First, the tea leaves are cold-brewed under high pressure for eight hours. Then, the liquid is slowly dehydrated, leaving a crystallized powder.
Lamancusa says, "When the consumer then opens the tea stick and pours it in the water, it just instantly rehydrates. And it tastes exactly like a freshly brewed cup of tea, because we haven't done any high heat or extreme-cold dehydration to it." Pouring warm water over Cusa's powdery crystals results in a cup of tea within three seconds.
For a company that launched in May 2017, Boulder's Cusa Tea has undergone rapid expansion. The tea varieties (Green Tea, English Breakfast, Chai, and Oolong) can be presently found in 500 locations, including King Soopers and REI stores. "By the middle of summer we should be in about a 1,000 retail locations," says Lamancusa.
The USDA-certified organic teas are grown, processed, and packaged in Southeast China. "It's been helpful to be next to the tea farm, because we can constantly do R&D work over there," says Lamancusa.
The top comment Lamancusa receives from consumers and retailers is, "Why has no one done this before?"
Lamancusa, who's worked at startups throughout his career, observing their strengths and weaknesses, says, "If you don't have a real innovative idea -- and if you just make a me-too product -- you're probably not going to make it."
Outstanding Energy & Environmental Manufacturer
By Chris Meehan
In less than a decade, the manufacturer of fleet-vehicle efficiency technologies has expanded into three categories, moving from a hydraulic hybrid system into pure electric vehicles and vehicle analytics.
The company has sold about 250 of its hybrid systems which use hydraulic fluids compressed as part of the braking process to provide a boost to the acceleration process for vehicles like garbage trucks and beverage vehicles. "Because you need as much payload as possible it can still be a good spot to look at hybrid systems rather than electric. It's difficult to electrify really heavy vehicles," explains co-founder Tim Reeser.
In 2018, Lightning Systems is making a strong push into electric fleet vehicles for such companies as DHL, FedEx UPS, Comcast, and AT&T. As of March, it had sold five of its electric Ford Transits, but more sales are on the way. "We're working on some fairly large orders," says Reeser. "We expect to deliver 200 this year based on our current order pipeline."
The company also has introduced an electric fuel-cell version of the Ford Transit cargo van that uses a hydrogen fuel cell to charge the vehicle's battery, extending its 50-mile range to 200 in a zero-emission vehicle.
Lightning Systems has a strong local supply pipeline and is continuing to work with Steelhead Composites, which makes accumulators and gas tanks. Longmont's UQM Technologies supplies the motors and some fuel cell parts and Loveland's Casper's Electronics makes its wiring harnesses.
Reeser says growth in this type of vehicle will be strong as more cities adopt and look at adopting rules to outlaw internal combustion engines, like London, Paris, and Amsterdam. "That regulatory drive is certainly pushing people toward the the zero-emission space," he notes.
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/lightning-hybrids
An acronym for Autonomous Manipulation and Perception, AMP's Cortex robots rapidly identify and sort certain materials in a single-stream recycling line using the company's Neuron artificial intelligence system. The robots are used on recycling centers' container lines to sort multi-material cartons -- like juice or wine boxes -- and plastics.
The system is capable of scanning, identifying, and sorting 60 containers a minute. But it detects far more in that short period of time, explains Rob Writz, AMP's director of operations. "Our vision system does perceive aluminum, paper, mixed papers, and corrugated products," he says.
AMP has numerous robots installed at recycling centers across the U.S., including Alpine Waste and Recycling in Denver and Dem-Con Companies in Shakopee, Minnesota.
"All of our robots combined now have over seven man-years of operation," Writz says. "They're adding up very quickly because they operate two to three shifts everyday. Two of our units have been operating for over a year, another one for over half a year."
The robotic systems are currently in the hands of early adopters. "Our work with them over the next few years will push out into the broader market," says Writz, "and the later adopters who let the early adopters sort out the commercialization challenges and technology."
The interest is strong because it's hard to retain employees as sorters. "It is a very dangerous, dirty, and dull job," explains Writz. "They have rapid turnover rates and are looking to stabilize their throughput on their lines that they operate many shifts per day," he explains.
Writz anticipates more growth in 2018. "We look to grow to about 15 people, tripling the size of our company in the span of a year," he says. The majority of the jobs will be in software and mechanical engineering.
"Our product is like putting sunglasses on a building," explains CEO Del Bankston. "It enhances the view and does not disrupt the connection."
Bankston emphasizes that the company's product, a thermochromic filter applied to window or skylight glass, darkens automatically once glass hits a certain temperature and reduces or eliminates glare and UV degradation, increasing health, comfort and productivity.
That's what he leads with, but the glass also reduces solar heat gain, increasing energy savings. "It's able to reduce your energy costs by up to 30 percent based on geography and exposure, building use and so on," Bankston explains. It's also much less expensive than options like electrochromic technologies which require external energy sources to darken.
After more than a decade of research and development, the company's Gen3 technology is protected by more than 40 patents and starting to ship. "We've got 14 projects that are under one phase or another of construction," says Bankston.
RavenWindow currently has about 20 employees and can manufacture 50,000 square feet of its product. By 2019, Bankston anticipates producing up to 100,000 square feet of the product and doubling staff in the second half of the year. "We're not concerned about sales, our phone is ringing off the hook and our website is blowing up with business," he says.
In the future, Bankston wants to supply major window and skylight manufacturers like Pella and Velux. "The intention is to sell the filter to be non-disruptive to the industry, to be another product they offer in their portfolio to their customers," he says.
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/ravenbrick
From previous weeks:
Outstanding Craft Brewery
By Angela Rose
4 Noses Brewing Company
After a 91 percent increase in 2017, 4 Noses Brewing Company's founder, Tommy Bibliowicz, is planning to nearly double his brewery's output again this year, forecasting minimum production of 8,000 barrels.
The rapid growth is necessary to keep up with demand. Bibliowicz partnered with Elite Brands last year to launch his previously self-distributed beers statewide. "Prior to signing with Elite, we were only in the Front Range with some presence in the mountains and Colorado Springs," he explains.
The brewery's portfolio has expanded as well. "There's a long list of experimental ad hoc products that we were able to come out with in 2017," Bibliowicz says. One such release was a Russian imperial stout called Ryeciprocal, which recently won gold in the wood- and barrel-aged dark beer category at the Craft Beer Awards.
"Some of the other ad hoc beers that we put out successfully last year are going to move from in-house only to a little more widespread availability," Bibliowicz adds. "We'll also have a lot of big barrel releases throughout the year as well as beers in our wild saison and sour programs, which are really coming along well."
While brewing good beer is decidedly important, Bibliowicz says 4 Noses' success has also been built on the excellence of his team. The company brought on a new director of brewing operations last year and had very little turnover of which to speak.
"We have a great team, and we kept it almost entirely intact throughout 2017, so I would definitely put that as a big success as well," he says.
CompanyWeek Profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/4-noses-brewing-co
Left Hand Brewing Company
The craft beer industry has changed a lot since Eric Wallace co-founded Left Hand Brewing Company in 1993, but the business has weathered every storm. One of the ways they've done so is to instill a sense of ownership -- figuratively as well as literally -- in their employees.
"Back during the first craft beer shakeout in 1998, we began offering some of our employees equity in the company in order to keep that talent around," says Wallace. In 2015, Left Hand took employee ownership a step further, creating an ESOP, or Employee Stock Ownership Plan, for its team of 115.
Maintaining "Righteous Independence" has also contributed to the brewery's success. Wallace says Left Hand remains a "cash-flow driven company" to this day. "We're not outside funded," he adds. "You have to run mostly on your own cash or somebody else is going to own you."
The model has served Left Hand well, enabling them to focus on more than the bottom line. While they were unable to increase production last year due to a voluntary recall, Wallace is aiming to boost total barrels from 69,535 in 2017 to 75,000 this year.
In the area of innovation, a partnership with Ball Corporation allowed last year's release of Milk Stout Nitro in American-made widget cans. "Prior to this, all the widget cans used in the U.S. were made in Europe and shipped over," Wallace says.
Left Hand has continued raising funds for charities as well, with over $900,000 in donations generated in 2017. "We'll crack $3 million for Bike MS this year since we first started sponsoring teams in 2008," Wallace says. "That's pretty cool and shows that we're community minded."
CompanyWeek Profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/left-hand-brewing-company
Paradox Beer Company
When Jeff Aragon and Brian Horton founded their brewery in 2012, they were dissatisfied with the industry's status quo and determined to produce beers that would challenge convention as well as the palates of adventurous beer drinkers.
"We're still doing it six years later," Aragon says, "and we plan to continue with our experimentation and pushing of boundaries. It's one of the things that really differentiates us from other breweries."
Paradox released its first coolship beer last year, making it the only brewery in the U.S. at a significant elevation (Divide is at 9,165 feet) to experiment with open spontaneous fermentation. The first in the Divide Ethos Spontaneous Series, the beer garnered rave reviews at the Big Beers, Belgians, and Barleywines festival in January.
"We'll be using the coolship a lot more this year," Aragon says. Paradox is planning to increase production by 15 to 20 percent over 2017's 2,000 barrels and will be expanding distribution as well. "We just added Virginia and are getting ready to launch a couple more states," he continues. "We're working on some stuff that may happen overseas, too."
The brewery's physical footprint will also grow this year with the addition of a new 2,400-square foot building for offices and a dedicated humidity-controlled barrel room. "We're going to double our foeder capacity as a result," Aragon adds.
He expects to continue brisk business in Paradox's scenic taproom as well. "The taproom was our focus last year," he explains. "It used to be more of a place where you'd buy bottles and go, but we expanded our hours, food selection, and beer menu. That really contributed to 2017's success for us."
CompanyWeek Profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/paradox-beer-company
Outstanding Outdoor Industry Brand
By Chris Meehan
Alchemy Bicycle Co.
Founded in 2008, Alchemy is rolling out more handcrafted bikes than ever as it changes production methods and continues to expand into new market segments.
"We have been growing consistently about 30 percent," says founder and owner Ryan Cannizzaro. "This year we are pushing that in terms of revenue and units, we're looking to double our sales. The main part of that is because we're going to a complete bike company. The average price per unit going out of here is likely to be going up quite a bit."
Cannizzaro is targeting minimum sales of $4 million and 1,400 units for the 12-employee manufacturer in 2018.
"A couple of years ago, we got into the mountain bike side of business," he says. "That's really been contributing to a lot of the growth right now."
Alchemy's full-suspension mountain bike is a pioneering carbon-fiber model. "We're the first manufacturer in the states and we produce that in-house," says Cannizaro.
Gravel bikes are also driving sales. "Gravel's becoming more and more popular," says Cannizzaro.
Using custom geometries developed in-house, Alchemy has been able to bring down prices without sacrificing quality. Cannizzaro explains that one of company's models was selling for $5,000. "With our house geometry, it came down $1,000 to $4,000 [in 2017]," he says. "We've been able to work with our vendors to get really good pricing on components, which really makes us competitive. We're not going to discount an Alchemy frame, but you get the value on how much the components are worth on the bike."
The company has about 50 retailers across the U.S. as well as distribution in Asia, Canada, Great Britain and some stores around the world, most recently adding a distributor in Australia. "We sell direct to consumer as well. I think we've learned in the changing times that we're not going to close the doors to any sales revenue and we're up front with everybody that we sell through all three sales channels," Cannizzaro contends.
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/alchemy-bicycle-co
The Denver ski manufacturer is coming off a banner year in 2017, and co-founder Ted Eynon is expecting more growth in 2018. "For calendar year 2017, which is our fiscal year, we about doubled in size and topline revenue," he says. "For 2018 we're budgeting to see similar growth. Time will tell, but we're expecting two times topline growth once again."
The company manufactures its skis and snowboards at what Eynon says is likely the only "skiery" in the world, where customers can have a beer and watch as skis are made in the shop behind the bar.
"It's a bar that's made of our ski cores," says Eynon. "There's a wall of glass behind the bar and people chat with our skitender, and learn about the brand watch the guys press the skis and snowboards. We're doing happy-hour tours, having events, all of that has been really crucial to our growth and success."
Moving from Glenwood Springs to Denver in 2016 also helped the company grow by increasing opportunities to work with local suppliers and find employees. "We have great access to marketing co-branding partners like distilleries, breweries and other businesses. As well as easier access to the media obviously, transportation and DIA. Really, just the whole greater Denver ski and snow community and active outdoor lifestyle community has become huge for us."
Meier has co-branding deals with such breweries as Tivoli, Crazy Mountain, Little Machine, Strange Craft, and Renegade, and the taps at the bar are usually populated with the partners' beers.
The move to Denver also allowed the company to partner with Front Range manufacturers like Mile High WorkShop. "We provided some tooling and training and get our wood delivered there. They smooth the wood and glue up our core blocks," Eynon says. "We go over and grab the glued up core blocks and it's just a huge help to us."
Meier designs its graphics and HookFish Manufacturing prints the topsheets. "They're able to print off all our prints very quickly," says Eynon. "They're really crisp prints and it's a huge help for us and they're only about 15 minutes away."
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/meier-skis
Phunkshun has carved a unique niche in the outdoor market manufacturing dye-sublimated accessories from recycled plastic fibers. "With us there's a lot of transparency about how we make the products and where they're made," says Phunkshun CEO Jason Badgley.
While that mission, the product mix has evolved since the 20-employee company launched in 2011. "Early on, we had to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck and we did that many times to figure out what the key pieces were," says Badgley. The catalog includes a number of hoods, scarves, and other garments meant to insulate one's face and neck on the slopes.
New for 2018 is a base layer. "It moves us out of the accessory category and is our first footstep into the undergarment apparel side of things," says Badgley.
Demand overwhelmed Phunkshun's capacity. "We got swamped with orders in the early winter and had to send some of our base layers to a contractor in town to do the sewing," Badgley says. "They were better equipped to do it and we were overwhelmed with orders. We were lucky there was a local Colorado cut-and-sew shop that could help us out."
Badgley says growth has been in the "double-digit percentage each year. That varies but for an industry that's had very small and steady growth it means we're taking market share from other people."
The company has continued to grow sales domestically and internationally. Its products are available in Canada, South America, and Europe. "We're putting a lot into international growth next year," Badgley says.
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/phunkshun
Outstanding Industrial Manufacturer
By Eric Peterson
In the last five years, ConcealFab's growth has been the very definition of dynamic.
When CEO Jonathan Fitzhugh joined the company in 2013, revenues were around $500,000. "Last year, we did just under $10 million in sales," he says. "The year before, we were at $4.4 million."
The maker of antenna concealment solutions has grown from 35 employees to 90 as it moved from a 23,000-square-foot facility to a 96,000-square-foot one.
And Fitzhugh forecasts more of the same in 2018. "We expect to at least double again this year," he says. He expects to top $20 million in revenue for the year as the head count hits 120 or more.
What's the driver? "Because cell phones are becoming more data-intensive, it's putting a lot more strain on carriers' networks," says Fitzhugh.
More data means more radios and antennae, and more antennae means more orders for ConcealFab.
"The challenge is most of these people with these data-oriented cell phones live in major metropolitan areas," says Fitzhugh. "You can't put 100-foot cell towers in downtown Denver. You need to put in 20- to 30-foot cell towers that blend in with infrastructure."
"That is what we do," he continues. "We design and fabricate solutions that hides and holds telecom infrastructure."
But ConcealFab's hockey-stick ascent isn't solely about skyrocketing demand. Fitzhugh's strategy of marketing to OEMs like Ericsson and other providers to the carriers as "a nimble manufacturing engine."
The company works with a supply chain that's centered on Colorado, including co-finalist IP Automation, which Fitzhugh calls "a great partner" for ConcealFab.
"It's been a pleasantly surprising ecosystem of vendors and labor," says Fitzhugh. "We prefer local. If problems happen, I put my guys in a car and we drive. And I like to keep the dollars in the state."
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/concealfab-corporation
Diversified Machine Systems
After Lincoln Electric acquired Wolf Robotics of Fort Collins in 2016, Wolf CEO Doug Rhoda says "he wasn't ready to retire yet."
He took a look around and found an "appealing" opportunity as CEO of Diversified Machine Systems (DMS) last year. "There's a really strong customer loyalty. Customers are voting with dollars."
In his first year at the helm, Rhoda initiated a push to develop "pipelines of technical talent" from local schools. "I'm really pleased with the success of that after one year," he says, pointing to hires from University of Colorado Colorado Springs and other local colleges and universities.
Innovation is another focus at DMS. "One of the reasons I came to DMS was the prospect of building on our existing platform with 3D printing," says Rhoda. "For industrial 3D printing of polymers and aluminum, we've made great strides in the last year developing machines that can do additive manufacturing."
Debuting last year, the DMS solution is a hybrid that allows for "both additive and subtractive” manufacturing in a single unit. "That's unique," says Rhoda. "There are some [other hybrid machines] coming out, but we're on the leading edge of it."
The new products could bolster the company's already rapid growth rate, but Rhoda wants to keep the 100-employee DMS from overheating. "We're growing at a 20 to 25 percent clip," he says. "Going forward, we want to grow in control. We don't want to grow faster than we can handle."
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/diversified-machine-systems
Before founding IP Automation in 1988, Ilia Petkov moved his family from U.S.S.R.-dominated Eastern Europe and worked as a handyman for the Vatican and pumped gas in California to make ends meet.
But his ability to devise complex automation solutions for manufacturing and industrial clients led him to go into business for himself. In the three decades since, he's invented revolutionary systems for everything from disposing nuclear waste to maintaining railroads.
For most of the company's history, the strategy was to focus on three or four key clients. IP Automation has broadened its reach in recent years. "We have a new slogan: AAFAB, or almost anything for a buck," laughs Director of Business Development Ken Krassy.
He says the result is "consistent growth." The company currently has about 30 employees. He adds, "Our growth has allowed us to invest in additional up-to-date machines," including a 110-ton press brake and a pair of large-scale CNC machines.
The railroad industry is a key market for IP Automation, and it counts Ingersoll Rand, Johnson & Johnson, and Vestas among its clients. "The coolest thing we did was for Vestas," says Krassy. "We actually sat down and designed a 17-ton machine just to move on part 90 degrees for a crane."
Krassy also highlights work for United Technologies. "We've saved them hundreds of millions of dollars by recycling the carbon in their braking systems," he says.
Another top customer for the company is one of its fellow CMA finalists: ConcealFab.
Krassy says it comes back to Petkov's "Einstein-like" ability to solve complex problems with custom machines. "People come to us and we sit down with them and figure out how to solve their problems," he says.
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/i-p-automation
Outstanding Craft Distiller
By Eric Peterson
After shuttering their eponymous brewpub in Michigan, Todd and Scott Leopold returned to their native Colorado to focus on distilling in 2008. A decade later, they're one of the superstars of the state's craft spirits boom.
With a catalog spanning vodka, gin, whiskey, liqueurs, and absinthe, the distillery's output has increased markedly since it moved into a new state-of-the-art facility in northeast Denver in 2014. "Production has more than doubled," says Todd of 2017. "You're not seeing much of it."
That's because the spirits are increasingly going into barrels, not bottles. Case in point: After spending more than four years in barrels, Leopold Bros. Bourbon is almost ready for its public debut. "We're planning on releasing our bourbon in the spring," says Todd. "We're pretty excited about that."
The bourbon aligns with the growth in three areas: premium, brown, and craft spirits. "We know where the market's headed," he says.
Released in 2017, Leopold's Summer Gin was a recent sales driver. "That was an enormous hit for us," says Todd. "We sold five times what we were expecting." With less alcohol and less juniper, he describes it as a "citrus-forward gin" made with Italian blood oranges and immortal flower from France. "It's really made for refreshing gin and tonics," he says.
Leopold Bros. is one of a few distilleries that malts its own grain. "We're in the middle of expanding our malthouse," says Todd. "That brings our capacity to 2 million pounds a year."
This dedicated grain-to-glass approach has defined the distillery. "We're very proud of that," says Todd. "It's very difficult to do what we're doing and stay independent."
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/leopold-bros
Marble Distilling Co.
Co-founder Connie Baker was the sole employee working the still at Marble for its first two years in operation since opening in 2015.
Now she's finally got some help, but the sustainable system she developed remains a marvel: It recycled 1.8 billion BTUs in 2017 -- or enough to heat 20 homes for a year.
Rather than simply pouring hot water down the drain, says Baker, "We harvest the heat from all of that water." It heats the water for the next batch as well as the distillery and tasting room.
But the ultra-green operation doesn't just conserve energy, it also makes some standout spirits. Marble started with vodka, gingercello, and espresso liqueur, but its brown spirits are now coming to market. "All of our browns are going to be single-cask," says Baker. Marble's rye debuted in late 2017 and the bourbon is due out in 2018 after about three years in barrels.
Many ingredients are sourced from local farms, and Marble returns spent grain as animal feed. (One supplier, Nieslanik Beef, has gone into the hog business because of the surplus.)
Marble's the only distillery in Colorado where you're welcome to spend the night. The sleek Distillery Inn has five hotel rooms that wouldn't look out of place in Manhattan.
"The big guys are fighting you, because they saw what happened in the craft brewing world," says Baker.
That explains the inn: Baker saw it as a revenue stream that would help diversify Marble's business. For 2018, she's forecasting a 100 percent bump in Colorado after signing with Breakthru Beverage to distribute Marble's spirits statewide as she eyes other states -- and countries -- for expansion.
But Baker says she's just getting started. "I joke, 'We're still a toddler,'" she says. "We're only two and a half."
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/marble-distilling-co
Karen Hoskin started her rum distillery in 2008, making it one of the five oldest craft spirits operations still operating in Colorado. "We're OGs, so to speak," she jokes.
And Montanya has been an innovator since the beginning. "We really pioneered the craft cocktail bar within the distillery in Colorado, which is now standard," says Hoskin, who moved the company from Silverton to Crested Butte in 2011.
2018 is a big year for Montanya. "We will celebrate our 10th anniversary in April," says Hoskin. She's marking the occasion by throwing a big party on April 7 to release Anniverseria, a rum aged for four years in barrels from Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey, Sutcliffe Vineyards, and Laws Whiskey House.
But the birthday bash is far from the only news at Montanya. "We're in the process of our B Corp certification," says Hoskin, touting the distillery's longstanding commitment to sustainability with carbon offsets, production processes, and a straw-free tasting room.
A decade in, Montanya shows no signs of slowing down. "We've had double-digit growth every year," says Hoskin. "We grew another 20 percent ins 2017," says Hoskin. "We grew our wholesale business by 20 percent and our retail by 20 percent. . . . It was a really good year for us."
But that means success that can't necessarily be quantified. "We're not buying into a lot of traditional measures of growing your brand," explains Hoskin. "We're doing it organically."
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/montanya-distillers
Outstanding Consumer & Lifestyle Brand
By Margaret Jackson
Knotty Tie Co.
Knotty Tie co-founders Mark Johnson and Jeremy Priest are "makers on a mission."
About five years ago, the partners recognized a void in employment opportunities for resettling refugees, primarily single mothers who faced educational, linguistic and cultural barriers. They wanted to provide a flexible work environment that would let them take their children to childcare and hold a job. "It took us two years before we could hire our first refugee employee," Priest says.
Knotty Tie supplies individuals, companies and wedding parties from all over the world. It will make a single tie or 10,000 ties, depending on the client's needs. Ties are customizable in terms of size, length, color and design. In addition to ties, it makes scarves and is looking to expand its product line into socks, suspenders, vests, curtains, pillows and wall prints.
Many of the refugees Knotty Tie hires come to the United States with sewing experience. If they don't, the company trains them.
Today, the company has 21 employees who earn between $15 and $17 an hour and enjoy health and dental benefits, as well as 25 paid days off each year.
The company adheres to sustainable practices, milling all of its fabrics from recycled plastic bottles so that they look and feel like silk. All products are handmade in a facility Denver's Art District on Santa Fe.
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/knotty-tie-co
April Archer has loved fly fishing since she was a kid. It's a passion she's instilled in her daughters.
So when she didn't have a good answer for them when they asked her why there aren't rods, reels and other equipment designed for females, she decided to start SaraBella Fishing, and named the business after her dogs Sara and Bella.
Archer and her husband, JT, launched SaraBella with business partner Scott Grieble in 2014. The company handcrafts its rods in Lafayette from carbon-fiber graphite and five types of wood. It customizes the build and grip for its customers, even offering an option for women with smaller hands. And you can get the rods in pretty colors like lavender or teal.
"The ongoing challenge is to create excellent products that are made especially for females," Archer says. "We allow women to pick and choose what performs the best. Being a pioneer in that is exciting."
As more people recognize that they can fly fish in all types of water, the popularity of the sport is growing. And women account for nearly half of beginning fly fishers, so Archer sees tremendous opportunities for SaraBella to grow. "You don't have to be in a cold-water stream in the mountains," says Archer. "And we see a tremendous opportunity to serve beginning women anglers."
Britton Purser wanted to take his two sons into the desert, so he designed a camper that would get them there.
"I had a piece of plywood and a magic marker," says Purser, founder of the maker of off-road-capable camper trailers. "I drew a teardrop shape and ended up with a Caravan. I just wanted to build something that was really small, open and airy and didn't have a lot of stuff."
At first, Purser made just one or two trailers a year. Then, in 2014, he founded Vintage Overland and sold 18 trailers during the company's first year in business. The company is currently working on its 59th Caravan. Vintage Caravan has even sent a camper to Australia.
There are three models of the Caravan, ranging in price from $12,500 to $16,500. The company sources all its materials from Colorado companies, and building a camper takes about six weeks.
Because they're light -- the trailers weigh between 600 and 700 pounds -- Vintage Overland trailers can be pulled by any Subaru, and its torsion axles and rugged tires allow it to go wherever the vehicle towing it can get. "Our tagline is, 'Go nowhere,'" Purser says. "I mean out in the middle of nowhere, not somewhere."
In an effort to further develop the brand, Vintage Caravan has started make products that go with the Caravan. There are camp chairs, kitchens, blankets and awnings. "We're setting up more of a brand for people who want to buy one of our Caravans," Purser says.
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/vintage-overland
Outstanding Bioscience Manufacturer
By Bill Radford III
Littleton (headquarters: Rock Hill, South Carolina)
3D Systems' Healthcare Technology Center in Littleton serves as the global headquarters for the company's health care operations. The roughly 200 employees at the center "collaborate with our customers every day to create highly personalized 3D-printed medical devices and patient-specific surgical simulation," says Katie Weimer, vice president of medical devices. "We also direct print individualized implants and customized instrumentation."
Weimer sees several growth areas. "A great deal of attention in the industry is focused on device design and manufacturing for 3D printing of titanium spinal interbody cages and hip cups," she says. "We are also seeing tremendous interest in our own VSP [Virtual Surgical Planning] products -- both in expansion of our craniomaxillofacial application, as well as expanding this technology to other areas such as spine and orthopedics. Finally, we are seeing our 3D printing technology moving to the point of care. Hospitals and doctor's offices are purchasing 3D printers to conduct some of the medical image processing and manufacturing -- primarily of anatomical models."
Weimer sees several advancements on the horizon that will have a big impact on the industry, such as the development of biomimetic materials that the human body can accept more easily. "3D printing has already had a major impact on our ability to find solutions for unique problems and solve complex cases," says Weimer. "However, I believe we have only begun to scratch the surface of better device design and treatment options built for the human body."
CompanyWeek profile: www.companyweek.com/company-profile/3d-systems
President and CEO Lance Ferrin's father founded the company in 1981 as CSI International, making molded rubber components. It became Allison Medical a decade later as it evolved into a manufacturer of drug delivery systems -- primarily syringes and pen needles.
The company began with veterinary syringes; after it got into human medicine and the diabetic market, the company finally took off, Ferrin says. "We've grown every year since 2000."
Allison Medical has 15 employees today. Its main business is in retail pharmacy, with its people products in grocery pharmacies and stores such as Costco and Target. Its diabetic products are under the SureComfort label and its general-use syringes make up the CarePoint line. Ferrin is looking to hospital pharmacies as a source of future growth. The company's veterinary products, which make up about 15 percent of its business, are found in stores such as Big R and sold through distributors to veterinary offices.
Pen needles are a growing category for the company, Ferrin says, and sales of the general-use syringes are taking off as well. Allison Medical is also looking to come out with a new type of syringe that Ferrin says will be a game-changer and has "people knocking on our door to be part of that project."
"I think we can continue to grow because we have our brand out there, but I think we have to be innovative in the products that we are selling and how we get them to our customers," Ferrin says.
"We've had really dramatic growth in the last 10 years in all aspects of the business," says CEO Mike Duncan. The company's two dozen pharmaceutical offerings include a line of generic dermatology products and specialty injectable oncology products.
"We manufacture the world's second leading treatment for prostate cancer (ElIGARD), and it's growing rapidly, so we think it'll be first soon enough," Duncan says. ELIGARD is available in 90 countries and sold directly to physician offices. "We have a very sophisticated inventory management system for the doctors, where we actually manage their inventories and their shipments," Duncan says.
TOLMAR has about 650 employees. It began as Atrix Laboratories in 1990 with four employees in 2006.
The company looks to other Colorado companies for much of its packaging needs, Duncan says, and has strategic partnerships with large companies such as Sandoz to distribute its generic products.
The key to the company's future? "It's absolutely product development," Duncan says. "We have about 150 people in product development."
Typically with generics, he says, sales grow for the first few years, then flatten for about five years and ultimately decline. "The only way to offset those declines is to continually develop and launch these generic products," he says. "On the flip side of that, we use a lot of our generic profits to develop new drugs; it takes much longer, about 10 years, to develop a new drug, and it's substantially more expensive than a generic."
Register here to attend this year's Colorado Manufacturing Awards event on April 5 at the Cable Center on the campus of the University of Denver.