On the night of April 4, 2019, CompanyWeek is presenting the fourth annual Colorado Manufacturing Awards at the Cable Center at the University of Denver.
Every week leading up to the big event, we are publishing short profiles detailing the finalists in 12 different categories. This edition covers: Industrial Manufacturer of the Year, Contract Manufacturer of the Year, Bioscience/Medical Manufacturer of the Year, Manufacturing Advocate of the Year, and Outstanding Food Brand/Co-Packer.
Industrial & Equipment Manufacturer of the Year
By Gregory Daurer
StickerGiant assists its clients with their labeling and promotional needs, providing products and service that's affixed a positive reputation to the company.
"More than half our work is product labels," says founder and CEO John Fischer. "A smaller segment of our business is promotional stickers."
Overall, business has nearly tripled since 2015, when StickerGiant brought in $8 million. "We'll do $22 million in sales this year," says Fischer. "We're the largest label converter in Colorado."
Fischer cites "great customer service" for the company's continued growth. "People are delighted with their experience in working with StickerGiant," says Fischer. "We have really good customer ratings, customer reviews."
Adding over 400 new customers per week, the company has provided labels or stickers for over 30,000 customers during its 19-year history. While some of its more noted customers include Netflix and Patagonia, Fischer says "our primary meat-and-potatoes [clients] are small to medium businesses -- from a yoga studio to a mom [making] salsa in her basement to a small brewery down the street."
StickerGiant utilizes open-book management, so all employees can see the company's bottom line. "The number-one [reason] why StickerGiant has been successful is it's always been about creating a good company to work for," says Fischer, who avoids a top-down approach within the company. "We're a highly-functioning, well-managed machine."
StickerGiant's employees will sometimes conduct site visits to local customers to get to know the business better -- and, likewise, it invites its customers to visit its Longmont facility. The company even produces a podcast that spotlights customers.
Whether it's internally within the company or with its customers, Fischer says, "StickerGiant knows how to stick together."
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/stickergiant
Merritt Aluminum Products Company
CEO Taylor Merritt says his company makes what truckers sometimes call "truck jewelry." In other words, any product that "looks great on their truck," but also has a functional aspect that "helps them do their job." They sometimes call it "truck bling" within Merritt's company, too.
Products include cab racks, which sit behind the truck cab and in which truckers can store their valuable tools and personal items. Saddle boxes provide storage, as well, and truckers can use the built-in steps to access, for instance, the top of the truck. There are rugged, mountable toolboxes. Tire chain carriers are "big in winter time," says Merritt, since "the DOT mandates truck drivers carry chains when going up and over I-70" in the event of snowy and icy conditions. And there's a hose rack that's especially popular within the Texas oil and gas market.
"As a provider of aftermarket aluminum accessories for semi-trucks, Merritt is definitely the market leader in North America," says Merritt. "We're utilizing higher-grade aluminum and other component parts in our process for fabricating and welding the products together. We feel [our products are] superior to our competition."
The company's customers range from individual truck operators to "large fleets that will have thousands of trucks that they run all over the country." Merritt says, "We do sell in all 50 states, as well as Canada and Mexico."
Due to a currently robust truck market, Merritt points out that, "For 2018, we increased our top-line revenue by over 26 percent. And, here in early '19 -- comparing January-February  to January-February  -- we've increased revenue to the tune of 43 percent in those months."
With close to 100 team members, Merritt says that laying out a set of core values has informed its hiring choices and has helped to guide the company. At the top of that list is integrity -- an important quality in both a product and a person. And recruiting possible future hires? The company has partnered with Morgan Community College on a welding program, and it offers internships to high school students at Fort Morgan High School.
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/merritt-equipment-co
Titan Robotics custom builds 3D printers for a variety of customers -- which, increasingly, include Fortune 500 companies. Titan CEO and founder Clay Guillory says those companies "are printing end-use parts, things that save them hundreds of thousands of dollars by using 3D printing versus traditional manufacturing." Guillory calls Titan's medium-format printers his customers' "secret weapon for saving a ton of money, and [it's] changing the way they make things."
Through the development of both its own pellet extrusion technology and motion control systems, Titan has reduced the cost of 3D printing "by a factor of 10, and we're increasing the throughput -- or speed -- by at least a factor of 10," says Guillory. He adds that those changes now make production manufacturing a "reality" using 3D printing.
"We have over 40 machines in operation globally," adds Guillory via email. "In the last two years we have grown by 300 percent. The number of employees has doubled in the past year alone to over 20 individuals."
Guillory calls his employees a "true testament to what the company is, and how we've gotten here -- it's not just the technology." Titan workers execute the "[steel-frame] welding, wiring, programming, and calibration" at its Colorado Springs facility.
And what kind of objects has Titan's 3D printers been responsible for fabricating?
"From rocket parts, to production parts, patterns and molds for metal casting, [to] full-sized 3D-printed dinosaurs and mannequins, our machines are in use in many industries around the world," notes Guillory.
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/titan-robotics
Contract Manufacturer of the Year
By Chris Meehan
Launched in 2004, Cogitic continues to make high-value, low-volume critical components for applications in submarines and reactors, among other burly machines.
"Unless somebody has a critical application, we're not the right supplier for them. If they can buy it from 10 other companies and quality is not the absolute highest requirement than likely we won't be competitive," says Jared Veteto, who co-owns the growing company with his brother, Jonathan. "It's a very difficult sector to work in. We have extraordinarily demanding customers, with extreme requirements, but certainly for contractors that demonstrate through performance, there's a lot of opportunity for growth."
Since late 2016, Cogitic has moved to a 25,000-square-foot space, hired five employees and purchased a high-pressure piping system product line. It also is looking into purchasing another product line and expanding further to meet customer demands for larger pieces. "Customers are encouraging us to move into work pieces on the order of 100 inches in diameter, which will necessitate new machinery and new inspection equipment," Veteto explains.
While Cogitic contracts with the Navy servicing submarines, Veteto notes that it also works with commercial shipyards and is expanding into other fields. "Our greatest growth potential lies probably outside of defense," he adds. "Some of the newest customers we're taking in are in astronautics research and development, as well as advanced oil and gas exploration."
To help make that happen, the focus is squarely on business development. "We're to a size now where we have to diversify," says Veteto.
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/cogitic
It's hard to find another company whose equipment has traveled as far as Custom Microwave -- its antennas are on NASA's New Horizons satellite, which recently sent back images of Ultima Thule on New Year's Day. At 4 billion miles from Earth, it's the most distant object that's been explored by a satellite.
Founded in 1965, the 60-employee company initially developed scientific instrumentation but its focus continues to change, explains Clency Lee-Yow, president of Custom Microwave. "For the last 18 to 20 years or so, the focus has shifted to supplying communication equipment for the antennas onboard communication satellites," he says. "Fortunately for us, every satellite that goes up there is usually a new antenna that is typically needed."
"We supply things directly to JPL, NASA," Lee-Yow explains. "So whether you're talking about probes that go to Jupiter, Mars, or just orbiting close to the sun, they have to send signals back and they're received through equipment that we build for NASA."
Lee-Yow estimates that 75 percent of the company's work is commercial, with some of that being developed through government contractors. He says the company has some catalog items, which make about 5 percent of the company's business, and about 20 percent is supplied to the government directly.
Custom Microwave also continues to evolve, while it saw a lot of growth in commercial satellites between 2008 and 2015, that growth has subsided. "We had to reinvent ourselves a little bit to address the changes, which are fairly drastic," says Lee-Yow. "But the changes are also opening up a lot of opportunities."
The new satellites are about a 10th of the size of older satellites, and notably less expensive. "Now you're looking at a lot lower cost per capability," Lee-Yow says. "It's creating more opportunity. Where we used to only supply a part of the system, now we can supply a much more significant part of the system."
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/custom-microwave
High Precision Devices
High Precision Devices' products are in everything from quantum computers to MRI machines and NASA research planes. The 50-employee company's catalog includes cryostats and detectors used in aerial spectrography and scientific instrumentation.
The manufacturer's cryostats and cryogenic capabilities, which can cool things to temperatures 2 orders of magnitude below deep space, have a broad array of applications, explains High Precision Devices (HPD) Director of Business Development Kevin Miller. "Currently, some of the bigger users are doing advanced detector systems that need very very low noise," he says.
Other applications include superconducting supercomputers, quantum information systems -- "a big, growing new field of endeavor," Miller says -- and a "new instrument suite provides holographic imagery of cloud particles and how cloud formation forms" for NASA.
Launched in 1993, HPD has grown about 20 percent year-over-year, according to Miller, and the staff has doubled since 2016, when it had 25 employees.
More recently, one of the company's MRI technologies was rolled into a spin-off, QalibreMD, that makes a quantitative MRI hardware and software platform that Miller calls "a real game-changer in the medical industry."
The system can clarify MRI imaging to allow clinicians to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy tissues -- and even identify cancerous tissue. "This technology allows a medical clinic to be able to definitively evaluate human tissue response in an MRI and unambiguously and specifically evaluate it," Miller says. "It has a lot of benefits in a lot of different ways."
While HPD's contract work is custom, QalibreMD requires a more standardized approach. "When you look at the fact that there are 30,000-plus MRI machines worldwide, providing traceable products to supply all of those is a different kind of business than atmospheric research or cryogenic fields," Miller says.
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/high-precision-devices
From precision medical equipment to aerospace fabrication the company makes highly specialized pieces for multiple industries. "A lot of our stuff is one-off, a typical lot size is between one and 20," says owner Mark Ingram. The company works with materials including titanium, nitronic stainless steel, and other types of stainless steel like 17-4 and 15-5.
To meet demand and accommodate new equipment, the company moved from an 8,000-square-foot facility to a 19,000-square-foot facility in January 2018. The additional space has allowed for the installation of a 5-axis CNC machine.
"We're AS9100 and we're also ISO 13485, which is the medical ISO, and we're FDA-registered because we make instruments that actually go in the body," Ingram explains. "We make the tools that they use to install implants."
Founded in 2002, the 16-employee company doesn't design products, but does work with engineers, Ingram says. "We deliver what they want and we ask a lot of questions if something's not clear in the print. We do some help with design even though we don't design here."
While the machining work and finishing is difficult, exacting work, Ingram says the company has a very low scrap rate. "We make mistakes, but we're careful not to ship them," he notes.
Ingram Machining is staying plenty busy. "We're pretty fully booked by our existing customers," Ingram says. "I wouldn't mind getting some production work, but we've never been known as a production shop."
Bioscience/Medical Manufacturer of the Year
By Margaret Jackson
Infectious Disease Research Center at CSU
The Infectious Disease Research Center (IDRC) at Colorado State University provides a high-quality research environment for developing new scientific discoveries, vaccines, methods of diagnosis, and therapeutic agents for infectious agents.
"This is really a resource not only for the university, the state of Colorado, or the United States," says IDRC Director Ray Goodrich. "It's a resource that has a global impact."
The center's Bio-pharmaceutical Manufacturing & Academic Resource Center (BioMARC) provides services from process and method development and cell, bacteria and virus storage to bulk drug substance manufacturing and and finished drug project. Its goal is to defeat global health threats.
"We do development work that's required to move ideas from early phases of discovery to later phases that's required to put products into commercial use," Goodrich says. "We don't put a BioMARC label or CSU label on products."
Currently, the center is working with a vaccine for E. coli and encephalitis viruses for the U.S. Department of Defense. It's collaborating with Boston Children's Hospital on a vaccine against a bacteria that causes diarrhea, work that is being sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It's also working on an HIV vaccine for Sumagen, a South Korean investor group,
"We do a lot of work with small, private biotech firms that are trying to get their products launched," says BioMARC Director John Wyckoff III. "We help them make material they can test in preclinical studies and in clinical studies."
Longmont (HQ: East Rutherford, New Jersey)
Cambrex offers custom pharmaceutical manufacturing across its global network. The company provides products, services and technologies to accelerate the development and commercialization of small-molecule therapeutics.
The company's acquisitions of Halo Pharma in September and Longmont-based Avista Pharma Solutions in January have created the opportunity to broaden its service offerings. The acquisitions added more than 800 employees and six new facilities to Cambrex's business, bringing its workforce to more than 2,000 people in 13 locations across North America and Europe.
The integration of the companies into the Cambrex network has allowed customers new and easy access to a wider variety of services. Halo Pharma added drug development and drug product manufacturing capabilities, and Avista Pharma Solutions brought early-stage development and discovery, standalone analytical services, solid state sciences, and microbiology to Cambrex's portfolio.
"Acquiring Avista adds a full complement of early stage development capabilities to Cambrex's larger-scale capabilities for both APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) and finished dosage forms," Cambrex President and CEO Steve Klosk said in a news release at the time of the acquisition. "Adding Avista today and Halo Pharma in September significantly increases our customer base and funnel of projects, provides significant cross-selling opportunities and allows us to offer an integrated service offering for most small molecules from the preclinical stage through the commercial stage."
Cambrex is now organized into three main business units: drug substance, drug product and early stage development and testing. The company continues to invest in its manufacturing sites to ensure it meets the ever-evolving demands of the industry.
Osypka Medtec works with medical device manufacturers and suppliers who are pioneering technologies such as helping paralyzed people walk and deaf people hear.
The Longmont company is an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) that provides technology and products to companies around the United States that are involved in the healthcare field.
Osypka Medtec is working with a consortium of companies and Harvard University on an implant that has a high data-transfer rate that reads electrical signals on the brain and can determine a paralyzed person's thoughts to they can make movements, says COO Dana Tompkins.
"They've figured out that even though your body is shutting down, all that muscle memory is still there," adds Osypka Medtec Director Jennifer Tompkins. "When you see that someone can go from not being able to move to picking up a glass, it's just incredible."
The company also working on a magnetic hearing implant developed and manufactured by Boulder-based Sophono, which Medtronic acquired in 2015. The Sophono bone conduction hearing implant has resulted in significant hearing and speech recognition improvement with conductive, mixed hearing loss. "It's for people who have middle ear bones that don't work properly," says Dana Tompkins. "It's not a cochlear implant, but it looks similar."
Osypka Medtec is part of OSYPKA AG, a German company founded in 1977 by Peter Osypka, who has more than 47 years of experience in the fields of medical technology and electrophysiology.
Manufacturing Advocate of the Year
Comments and bios from the finalists
Robin Kniech, Denver City Council
First elected to Denver City Council in 2011, and re-elected in 2015, Robin Kniech is one of two at-large councilmembers. Manufacturing is part of Robin's family history, as both her mother and step-father made their living at Master Lock in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Robin has dedicated her life to making Denver a better place for middle class families and those struggling to make ends meet, championing policies that support access to and funding for affordable housing, good-paying jobs, and sustainability.
With a law degree and more than fifteen years of policy experience prior to being elected, Councilwoman Kniech has a record of bold policy accomplishments including promotion of apprenticeship training and Denver's first affordable housing fund. She is the first out member of the LGBT community to serve on the Denver City Council, and she is the mom of a young son.
"My focus on manufacturing isn't simply based on family nostalgia, but rather on the economic importance of middle-income production jobs to Denver's economy and the workers doing the jobs. While our manufacturing sector is made-up of smaller firms and more diverse products than some regions, that diversity is part of our strength, supporting our resilience during ups and downs in markets. In the past, I helped shape Denver's business personal property exemption program to help support equipment investments and served as a frequent matchmaker between manufacturers and the technical assistance or government program administrators they needed. My current priority is maintaining the land use needed to support manufacturing. This means balancing the preservation of key industrial areas in the face of pressures to meet Denver's housing needs. And it also means creating more flexibility for uses in mixed-use areas for a new generation of production that is more modern, cleaner, and therefore more compatible with denser, mixed-use development and doesn't need to be separated from residential to ensure healthy communities. Alongside this priority is a focus on workforce development, to ensure we have the systems in place to recruit and train a next generation of mid-skill employees to help our maker industry thrive." -- Robin Kniech
Tom Neppl, Springs Fabrication
Tom Neppl is the founder and President of Springs Fabrication, a diversified manufacturing company located in Colorado Springs and Westminster. Since founding the company in 1986, Tom has managed the growth from a two man operation to one of the largest primary employers in the area.
Tom has played an active role in promoting and growing the manufacturing industry in Colorado, helping to launch the Southern Colorado chapter of CAMA, serving as its chair for several years as well as numerous community boards. In 2015, Tom was named Business Citizen of the Year in Colorado Springs for his work on promoting manufacturing in the region.
"Manufacturing is the lifeblood of a strong economy and has played a key role in building our great nation. As it provides economic stability and is an integral part of every industry sector, manufacturing provides the tools for everything else to function. Through innovation and technology, manufacturing will continue to provide opportunity and stability to families and communities. Our job is to continue challenging the next generation, reinventing and retooling our industry." -- Tom Neppl
George Newman, Front Range Community College
George Newman is director of the advanced manufacturing program at Front Range Community College (FRCC), and director of the Center for Integrated Manufacturing that will open in fall 2019 at FRCC's Boulder County Campus. He has spent over 30 years in various manufacturing industries including paper, plastics, automation and industrial equipment.
Newman gained invaluable experience in the mid-1990s running a sheet metal business in Massachusetts. He was unable to attract skilled sheet metal workers at any wage rate and in response began a training program with a local vocational-technical high school. This understanding of the manufacturing skills gap has enabled him to provide leadership in creating and expanding advanced manufacturing programs in northern Colorado. George is on the Board of the Northern Colorado Manufacturing Partnership. He is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and Harvard Business School.
"According to the Manufacturing Institute, manufacturing has the greatest regional economic impact of any sector, returning $1.33 for every dollar of GDP. It follows that the health of an economy is partially driven by the robustness of its manufacturing sector. With its successful research universities, its concentration of federal research agencies and its diversified manufacturing sector, Colorado is poised for continued economic growth. The challenge is that many companies are today unable to fulfill orders due to a shortage of skilled employees. This skills gap is costing the economy billions of dollars. Front Range Community College is working to close that gap through its investment in the Center for Integrated Manufacturing which, when up and running, will graduate over 100 advanced manufacturing students each year." -- George Newman
Outstanding Food Brand/Co-Packer
By Bart Taylor
Married co-founders Josh and Zora Tabin criss-crossed the U.S. by car in the late 2000s to find the best place to raise a family and chose Fort Collins. What followed is one of Colorado's great food stories. Today Wild Zora products, including the flagship Paleo-inspired, gluten-free meat and veggie bar, are sold in over 1,000 Walmart stores and online at Amazon and WildZora.com.
The happy ending almost never happened. "We started up in Farmer's Markets in Boulder and Ft. Collins and by the end of 2015 were in 80 retail stores," says Josh Tabin, now CEO of Wild Zora. "By the end of 2016 we were in 800 stores, including local Safeway and King Soopers -- but burning through cash, so that by the end of 2016, going into 2017, we were running on fumes," Tabin chuckles.
"So we pivoted the business. We put the retail effort on autopilot, focused on our online business, and by the end of 2017 had saved the company," Tabin says, adding, "in early 2017, 80 percent of our business was retail, 20 percent was online. By the end of 2017, it was the opposite."
The big assist came from Amazon. "Initially, our focus had been on our website, but we found that a large number of visitors would come back and purchase on Amazon," says Tabin. "We didn't start out to have an Amazon-centric online plan but it turned out that way. Eventually we hooked up with an Amazon consultant who really helped us refine our plan. They grew it from $300 month in online sales to $3,000 month. We took it inhouse and grew it from $3,000 per month to $3,000 per day."
But there's more. "Going into 2018, we met a Walmart buyer - even though we didn't have a retail strategy after focusing online through '17," Tabin explains. "Turns out Walmart is very committed to working with health-focused, organic, small brands. They wanted us, and they proved it."
Today Wild Zora products are in 1,000 Walmart stores -- eight percent of their total. It transformed Wild Zora. "Today half our business today is Walmart, and it's now the fastest growing part of the company," Tabin says.
It also pushed the company into an entirely different stratosphere from a manufacturing standpoint. "It took us months to create the product, and two 48-foot trucks to fill the orders for the initial 1,000 stores -- one box per store!" Tabin laughs. "We doubled the staff, having to be ready for big increase and improve in speed of production."
The Tabins found a willing public-sector partner to accommodate growth. "We moved into a new facility in Loveland -- the City of Loveland really came through for us. They got us permitted and ready to go, and with their help, we've increased production capacity by 600 percent," Tabin says.
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/wild-zora
Teton Waters Ranch
Teton Waters Ranch manages a supply chain stretching from here to Australia, but the company's themes resonate for anyone familiar with other fast-growth Colorado food brands.
"We were founded as a company with a passion for regenerative agriculture, to sustain damaged pastures, increase biodiversity, and enhance ag ecosystems," explains President Mike Murray. "For us, providing high quality, great-tasting beef is an outcome."
It's a familiar theme here: food driven by passion.
And as with others, the passion card often equates to success. Teton Waters Ranch has become "the largest, fastest growing brand of Certified Humane, 100 percent grass-fed and finished beef solutions in the country," says Murray.
The company sources grass-fed beef globally. "We get a lot of beef from Australia and New Zealand," says Murray. In part it's a function of growing demand, of changing consumer tastes. It's also supply; finding quality grass-fed animals presents its own challenges, a quest not lost on TWR's customers. "Cows aren't supposed to eat grain," Murray says. "Consumers get our passion for agriculture, and that our products are better for them and better tasting. That's the payoff."
The company leans on a co-manufacturing network located primary in the Midwest, with Denver at the center of the company's global hub. "Originally we came to Colorado for pragmatic reasons. There were simply more customers for our products here," Murray says. "But beyond that, Denver remains a great place to headquarter a natural food company. It's a city and employee base that 'indexes' to what we do" -- a reference to the progressive food choices and lifestyle that have come to define Colorado.
It also seems like a perfect place for a company like Teton Waters Ranch to pursue an "innovation agenda," which of course revolves around grass-fed, Certified Humane beef, including a new product, Burger Blends, that walked away from last month's Natural Products Expo with the NEXTY award for Best New Frozen Product.
Boulder Organic Foods
"Kate Brown founded Boulder Organic Foods in 2006 because she couldn't find soups for her daughter without preservatives, artificial colors, and flavors that were commonplace on the soup aisle," says CEO Greg Powers.
It's a story that's familiar in Colorado's food ecosystem. Think Jackson's Honest Chips.
Today the company's mission is to "make better food available to everyone, by creating meals that are fresh, organic, and gluten-free," Powers says. The company first launched its soups into Whole Foods in Boulder County in early 2009 and has since expanded to stores nationwide with products serving multiple channels in retail, private label, and food service. A sample of current customers include Costco, Trader Joe's, Kroger, Aspen Skiing Company, the National Park Service, and Kaiser Permanente.
But in many ways the company's calling card remains its commitment to the local community -- to local manufacturing and a loyal cadre of employees. "We invest heavily in our people," Powers says, "in part by paying an average wage of $16.40 per hour, offering health benefits to all of our employees, and promoting a management team that is over 50 percent women."
It's no surprise the company embraces an ethos of sustainability that resonates here as much as anywhere in the U.S. "We produce 100 percent of our products onsite and maintain an 88 percent landfill diversion rate," says Powers. "For us those are great numbers." In 2018, the company processed more than 2 million pounds of fresh vegetables to produce over 500,000 gallons of soup, and recycled or composted more than 150,000 pounds of byproducts and waste.
The company also remains "committed to Colorado-based partners for sourcing raw materials and ingredients," adds Powers.
As with many of Colorado's anchor food brands, expansion is on the horizon. "In 2019, we're expanding beyond soup by launching a series of new products aimed at the growing demand for fresh, ready-to-eat meals." Powers says.
That's hardly a surprise for a company that's created its own opportunities from the beginning. But, as Powers adds, it's also being self-funded, an accomplishment in itself. "We've achieved success without raising any outside capital, by focusing on building a strong foundation and through thoughtful growth. Being a privately financed manufacturer makes us a bit of a unicorn in the area."
It also makes Boulder Organic Foods' growth story even more impressive, in a Colorado growth industry that keeps on giving.
CompanyWeek profile: https://companyweek.com/company-profile/boulder-soup-works
Read up on the finalists in the brewing, cannabis, consumer/lifestyle, and builder categories here.
Read up on the finalists in the aerospace/electronics, distilling, outdoor industry, and energy categories here.
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