At the third annual Colorado Manufacturing Awards (CMAs), the common threads were innovation and Colorado pride.
"This is truly a statewide celebration of manufacturing," said CompanyWeek publisher and event host Bart Taylor.
For the April 5 event at the University of Denver's Cable Center, finalists came from all over the state: Carbondale, Crested Butte, Durango, Divide, Grand Junction, Fort Collins/Loveland, Boulder/Louisville, Colorado Springs/Woodland Park, and Denver and its suburban neighbors.
Representatives from the offices of Senator Cory Gardner, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, and Congressman Ed Perlmutter attended this year as well -- perhaps attesting to manufacturing's increasing political clout.
And why not? As Taylor noted, manufacturing in Colorado has "arrived." According to a recent analysis cited at the event, Colorado's "direct industry activity supports a total of 441,000 jobs in the state, and contributes approximately $47 billion to state GDP. "
A total of 30 finalists represented 10 different categories at the CMA. When it was all said and done, the "Outstanding" top award for achievements in their field went to the following companies:
Craft Distiller: Montanya Distillers
Aerospace Manufacturer: Air Comm Corporation
Contract Manufacturer: Manes Machine and Engineering
Bioscience Manufacturer: Allison Medical
Consumer & Lifestyle Brand: SaraBella Fishing
Small Food Brand: Blue Moon Goodness
Energy & Environmental Manufacturer: Lightning Systems
Industrial Manufacturer: Diversified Machine Systems
Craft Brewery: Left Hand Brewing Company
Outdoor Industry Brand: Phunkshun
But before it was all said and done -- in fact, as it all started -- Tom Bugnitz of Manufacturer's Edge, co-presenter of the event, repeated his late father's words of advice to his son: "Talk less." In frequently hushed tones, the audience listened to tales of business challenges, of women achieving success as entrepreneurs, and of companies making an impact, while still doing right by their communities and the environment.
Air Comm's Keith Steiner related how businesses often find success after humble beginnings in "a basement or a garage." Steiner's general advice is "to learn what you don't know" and then "surround yourself with great people who know what you don't know and can help you get where you're trying to go."
The presenter for that aerospace awards category, Carolyn L. McIntosh, a partner at Denver law firm Squire Patton Boggs, emphasized greatness: "I think everyone in the room understands, we make America great, we make Colorado great by making things." She noted how the aerospace companies present -- such as Air Comm, which was recognized for its designing of aircraft systems – help to "put us on the national and international map."
Several winners echoed her assertion regarding their own fields.
Lightning Systems' Brian Johnston said his company "has [proven] that you don't have to live in Detroit to build trucks." While admitting that "delivery trucks are not sexy," making delivery trucks that are environmentally-friendly "green trucks" has given Johnston's company -- the winner in the Outstanding Energy & Environmental Manufacturer category -- a competitive edge.
Adam Biddle of Colorado Springs' Diversified Machine Systems says his company takes "Colorado steel" and makes a "Colorado-made machine" -- which is then used within Colorado by other businesses to make their own products. Biddle said of the award, "We take a lot of pride in Colorado -- and this is our validation for our pride."
Some companies face global competition. Bruce Page, CEO of Outstanding Contract Manufacturer Manes Machine and Engineering, said he works to make his company "more competitive throughout the world -- because that's what we're up against, right now: We're a global industry. . . . We're constantly up against the gun to drive down our costs."
One brewery co-founder spoke to the local benefits of Colorado's manufacturing scene. "We bring money into our communities," said Eric Wallace of the winning Left Hand Brewing Company. "We make our state a richer and better state." (And Left Hand also helped to make attendees less thirsty: its beers, along with those of fellow nominees Paradox Beer Company and 4 Noses Brewing Company, were quaffed by some at the CMA.)
And Colorado is certainly a richer state due to its women: CMA winners Montanya Distillers, SaraBella Fishing, and Blue Moon Goodness are run by female heads.
Karen Hoskin pointed out how her Montanya Distillers, one of the oldest craft distilleries in the state, has helped train five female distillers since the company started. "We broke the mold of women in the industry," she said to applause. Hoskin spoke to sustainability, as well: "We at Montanya take 27 actions every single day to minimize our footprint on our incredibly beautiful state of Colorado."
Another woman making a mark on Colorado is April Archer of SaraBella Fishing, which designs fishing rods for women. The company also hires disabled veterans -- "survivors," as she called those employees. For Archer, the company's mantra -- as a brand enjoyed outdoors and as a force for good in its community -- might as well be "water heals."
In one of the videos shown before the presentations (produced by Hoptocopter Films), Wendy White of Colorado Proud noted how "agribusinesses in this state contribute more than $40 billion to the economy of Colorado on an annual basis and we help provide over 170,000 jobs." Colorado Proud is a program run by the Colorado Department of Agriculture; another of the department's affiliated projects is the Coloardo Wine Industry Development Board, which poured attendees the winning wines from the Governor's Cup.
The small brand Blue Moon Goodness received recognition for being a part of the local food economy. In accepting her award, Kelly Strong, founder of the Woodland Park soup company, said something which was restated throughout the evening by other manufacturers in their own words: "We're lucky to be in Colorado."