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2021 Made in Colorado

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Since the last Made in Colorado issue of ColoradoBiz rolled off the presses in March of 2020, the manufacturing sector has been in the spotlight. 

First, it was about pivots to masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) in the face of shortages. Next, we got a lesson on vaccine development and manufacturing, courtesy of the nightly news. The current chapter is all about massive disruptions in the global supply chain.

Together, these stories have put manufacturing front and center instead of its usual position, relegated to the background. It’s easy to ignore where something is made when it’s in plentiful supply. People only start asking questions when it isn’t. 

If these pandemic-induced manufacturing phenomena have taught us anything, it’s easier to boost manufacturing in your own country than it is to reach overseas in times of need. It’s a lesson that could boost manufacturing in Colorado for decades to come.

For the tenth edition of Made in Colorado, we’re profiling 10 companies that demonstrate the art and science of making it in the state.

Read on to learn more about these Colorado makers and manufacturers:

SPOKE SOUND
Durango

GATORTAILZ
Centennial

SNITCHING LADY DISTILLERY
Fairplay

EVRAZ NORTH AMERICA
Pueblo

MAZUR INSTRUMENTS
Castle Rock

ZYNEX MEDICAL
Centennial

REBOUND TECHNOLOGIES
Commerce City

URSA MAJOR TECHNOLOGIES
Berthoud

PEXPEPPERS HOT SAUCE
Pueblo

NUTROCKERS
Englewood

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Plus, check out the winners and finalists from ColoradoBiz magazine’s annual Made in Colorado: 

FOOD & BEVERAGE

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Winner

Pastificio Boulder | Boulder

Married co-founders Claudia Bouvier and Ted Steen moved to Boulder in 2012 for a lifestyle change. 

A few years later, Bouvier embarked on a master’s degree in engineering at CU Boulder. She ended up getting involved with the school’s Catalyze CU incubator with her business plan for manufacturing whole-grain artisan pasta from freshly milled flour in 2017. 

It was a perfect fit: Bouvier grew up in a culinary-oriented family in Brazil — and later took a professional-pasta making course in New York — and Steen founded a brewery in Connecticut before the couple relocated to Colorado. “This idea of food and pasta-making has been with me forever,” Bouvier says. 

“Our focus is really on heirloom and ancient wheats,” Bouvier says. “In all honesty, it’s just going back to the way pasta was done. generations ago. It’s not that we’re reinventing the wheel, but on both coasts, there’s not this category on the shelves.” 

That’s largely because the grains aren’t in the fields, she adds. “During the grain revolution, our wheat crops have been over-hybridized, because the focus was on feeding as many people as we could,” Bouvier says. “Along the way, we ended up losing the flavor and the nutrition, and those are the main characteristics you see in our pastas.” 

Pastificio Boulder launched at the Boulder Farmers Market before going into Whole Foods in the region and about 100 independent grocers across the country since 2020. “It turns out Boulder is a pretty amazing place to be in the natural foods industry,” Bouvier says.

RUNNERS-UP

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Stem Ciders | Lafayette/Denver

Founded by Eric Foster and Phil Kao in Lafayette in 2013 and expanding with a taproom in Denver’s RiNo Art District in 2014, the fast-growing craft cidery has pushed the envelope with creative products and clever business moves. 

Fraser Valley Distilling | Fraser

Barry and Debbie Young came to Colorado to retire, then started distilling a wide variety of craft spirits in 2018. It’s a family affair: Barry and Debbie’s son, Michael, runs the restaurant, and daughter, Jenna, is the general manager. 

EMERGING MANUFACTURER

WINNER

Solid Power| Louisville

The last year has been notably hectic at Solid Power. 

First, the company — launched by CEO Doug Campbell in 2012 to make safer, better and cheaper solid-state batteries for electric vehicles — closed on a $130 million Series B fundraising round in May led by Ford and BMW. 

Then in June, Solid Power announced a plan for a $1.2 billion IPO through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). 

After recently surpassing 100 employees, the company is also planning to open a new electrolyte manufacturing facility in Thornton by mid-2022 and working with South Korea’s SK Innovation to produce battery cells at its factories.  

“It’s been nonstop,” says Will McKenna, Solid Power’s marketing communications director. “That new Thornton facility will quadruple our footprint in Colorado.” 

McKenna says that batteries made in Louisville will start going through qualification with automakers in 2022. “That’s a multi-year process,” he notes. “We’re envisioning electric vehicles powered by our batteries in 2026, so 2022 kicks off that four-year process.” 

The Thornton and Louisville facilities will support qualification and full commercialization. “Electrolyte production is our business model long-term,” McKenna says. “We envision keeping cell production to a degree. We’ll still have our production line in Louisville, but it doesn’t have the quantity required for electric vehicles. The Thornton-based facility is producing electrolytes that will feed into the manufacturing in Louisville,  so we certainly needed to keep production close by, and the offices are only 15 minutes apart.”

RUNNERS-UP

FarmBox Foods | Sedalia

 The startup is converting shipping containers into farms for mushrooms, greens and other crops. A sustainable alternative to traditional centralized agriculture, FarmBox’s watering systems use 90% less water than traditional farms. 

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Timber Age Systems | Durango

Ponderosa pine hasn’t traditionally been utilized as structural wood, but co-founders Kyle Hanson and Andy Hawk are blazing a trail making cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels. The company’s modular manufacturing model is both scalable and good for the forest. 

MOST INNOVATIVE MANUFACTURER 

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WINNER

Titan Robotics | Colorado Springs

Additive manufacturing — or 3D printing — is moving from prototyping production for many industries. 

And few companies in the space are innovating like Titan Robotics. “Innovation is one of our core values. It’s been in our DNA since the beginning, when the company started in 2014,” CEO Rahul Kasat says. “Titan customers are now making 10,000-plus 3D-printed parts for end-use applications.” 

The manufacturer of large-format 3D printers has pushed the envelope by adding CNC machining capabilities to one of its new models that’s in high demand at aerospace manufacturers as well as foundries. 

Beyond hardware, Titan Robotics is also innovating with materials and software. “With Titan Robotics, we can print with hundreds of different materials, so we continue to launch new materials for specific end-use applications in the market,” Kasat says. 

To help improve processes, Titan Robotics is currently developing quality-monitoring software. “It’s essentially making Titan printers smarter,” Kasat says. “If we notice there’s an issue during the print, we can temporarily stop it, fix it, and then we can restart it.’ 

Now with 35 employees on the payroll, Titan Robotics is “growing dramatically every year,” Kasat says. “We have aggressive plans for 2022 and expect to get to 50 to 60 employees by the end of the year.” 

Look for new Titan Robotics products early in the year. “Stay tuned,” Kasat says. “We’re at the forefront of what people are calling Additive Manufacturing 2.0, moving it from prototyping into end-use production parts.”

RUNNERS-UP

RK Mission Critical | Aurora

A business unit of longstanding construction and engineering firm RK Industries, RK Mission Critical manufactures modular data centers at its 140,000-square-foot facility in Aurora. The Disruptor, launched in March 2021, holds promise to disrupt cryptocurrency mining.

ActivArmor | Pueblo 

Since she founded the manufacturer of 3D-printed splints and casts in 2014, President and CEO Diana Hall has guided ActivArmor’s increasing traction with health-care providers. The company’s catalog has likewise expanded to include a new walking boot launched in September 2021.

BEST DESIGNED GOODS

WINNER

David Rasmussen Design | Carbondale

With a background that spans furniture-making and treehouse building, David Rasmussen started his eponymous line of kitchen accessories and barware to fill out the excess woodworking capacity at his architectural millwork shop in Carbondale.  

The company’s catalog of wooden wine and cocktail glasses and platters, trays and cheese boards offer minimalist design with splashes of color and innovative features. Case in point: The Chroma Mingler is a plate for hors d’oeuvres with a slot to hold your wine glass. 

“The design is driven by striving for a balance between functionality and aesthetic, and creating pieces that are meant to be heirloomed,” Rasmussen says. “We’re creating work that people care about enough to take care of and create future heirlooms.” 

As of late 2021, Rasmussen is moving 20 miles northwest to an 18,000-square-foot shop the company purchased in New Castle, Colorado — nearly double the size of the original facility in Carbondale — to accommodate sky-high demand. “We’ve become one of the leading providers of architectural millwork in Aspen,” Rasmussen says.

RUNNERS-UP

Phunkshun2

Phunkshun Wear | Denver

Boosted by an investment in high-capacity laser cutters, the manufacturer of neck gaiters deftly pivoted to facemasks during the pandemic and is now expanding into cycling apparel and leggings in 2022.

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Timeless Travel Trailers | Wheat Ridge 

The largest, most experienced upfitter of Airstream Trailers in the country, Timeless Travel Trailers makes works of movable art for a wide range of customers, including brands like Colorado Native, Bonobos, and Deep Eddy Vodka.

MOST ETHICAL MANUFACTURER

WINNER

Ball Corp | Broomfield

One of the largest manufacturers in Colorado, Ball Corp. takes home the 2021 award for the most ethical. It goes back to two big bullet points on sustainability and inclusivity. 

“Aluminum is the model for circularity in a perfect system,” says Ball spokesperson Hli Yang. “It’s infinitely recyclable, doesn’t lose value when recycled and is easily processed and sorted. However, there isn’t a perfect global system and we know as an industry, we can do better to improve recycling rates, increase recycled content, support policies and infrastructure that maximize recycling yields, and design for circularity.” 

Ball is pushing for a 90% global recycling rate for aluminum beverage cans, bottles and cups by 2030. “Last month, we announced plans to create Brazil’s first circular economy lab in Fernando de Noronha,” Yang says. “Named the VADELATA for the Planet Lab, the project will create a model circular economy within the island by centralizing the collection and recycling of aluminum cans.” 

Ball is also striving to increase the representation of underrepresented groups in the company’s workforce. “We have a strong, intentional focus on creating a culture that embraces inclusion and diversity,” Yang says. “No matter your background, thoughts and talents, it’s important that employees feel included and welcomed for their
unique contributions.”

RUNNERS-UP

Spinster Sis

Spinster Sisters |Golden

Aghast with the chemicals in mass-market soaps and skincare, CEO Kelly Perkins took it upon herself to start a line with natural, fair-trade ingredients. The company’s values shine in its sourcing as well as wind-powered production, recyclable packaging and otherwise embracing sustainability as something much bigger than a buzzword.

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Wine Punts | Colorado Springs

Born from a college project in 2006, the company upcycles wine bottles that might otherwise be doomed to a landfill into stylish glassware, canisters and candles. Wine Punts has also offered many employees a second chance by hiring people experiencing
homelessness

Made in Colorado: One-of-a-kind running jackets, wind chimes and more

Vander Jacket

“I’ve always loved fashion,” says founder Sarah Vander Neut. “My mom taught me how to sew in rural 4-H and my dad was running for Nike in Oregon.”

The two worlds led directly to her sewing running jackets when she was pregnant with her first daughter about a decade ago. “I had to make a few for myself because nothing fit,” Vander Neut says. People who saw her running in her jackets “loved them,” she says. “The lightbulb went on for me.”

Using surplus fabric and scrap from other companies, Vander Neut made more than 1,000 unique Vander Jackets in her first nine years in business. “Every one is different,” she notes. “It is a Denver microbrew, so to speak, for clothing.”

She continues to sew her one-of-a-kind (and often custom) jackets by hand but works with a local cut-and-sew contractor for a new retail line. “USA-made athletic apparel is really rare,” Vander Neut says. “That’s what makes it special.”

  • $215 to $225 one-of-a-kind jackets; $185 retail line
  • Made by Vander Jacket, Aurora

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Hyperflesh Masks

Landon Meier started making “hyper-realistic” baby masks circa 2001, then soon turned his eye to remarkably lifelike masks of celebrities like Mike Tyson and Charlie Sheen. He caught the attention of late night TV in 2013 with a Walter White mask worn by Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad.” Last year, Danny DeVito wore a Hyperflesh mask of himself on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” The resulting viral videos catalyzed sales. “I can ride that fame for a while,” Meier says.

Meier has since made spot-on masks of politicians and characters like Dwight from “The Office” and Tyrion from “Game of Thrones.” “The sculpture always takes the longest,” Meier says. “I’m trying to get a particular expression, an expression that embodies that person or character.” He says smiles on his masks can be subjective, noting Mike Tyson’s grin is “friendly and menacing at the same time.”

Next up: a “classic Hollywood character,” possibly Nick Cage or Steve Buscemi. But not the Tiger King: “A lot of people wanted me to do Joe Exotic. He’s quickly fading.”

  • Celebrity masks $5,000 and up; baby masks $300 to $500; custom masks $20,000
  • Made by Hyperflesh, Denver

BG Pups Guitar Pickups

In a previous career, Bryan Gunsher played guitar for jam and reggae bands in California. Around 2005, he says, “I wasn’t playing out as much and I still wanted to do something musical, so I learned how to make guitar pickups.” Not any old pickups, but pickups modeled after the P-90 first made by Gibson Brands in 1946. “People love the sound, but it won’t fit in many guitars,” Gunsher explains, noting that his BG Pups are compatible with common guitars, not just Les Pauls and Gibsons.

Since 2013, he has used a custom-made machine to wind the wire after initially hand-winding every pickup, increasing his output by a factor of four and saving his back in the process.

Gunsher, who moved to South Park in 2015, has made about 1,000 pickups in his career. Some have been used onstage by guitarists with Fleetwood Mac, Kid Rock, and the Wallflowers. “Right now, I’m absolutely slammed,” he says. “All these guitarists are stuck at home with their guitars.”

  • $65 to $110 per pickup
  • Made by BG Pups, Fairplay

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Fettle & Fire wind chimes

“In the design world, you would call me a maximalist,” says Lindsey Bricker, a professional ceramicist since the early 2010s. That aesthetic led to pieces with a “layering of patterns and colors and textures,” including her flagship line of wind chimes. “Construction-wise, they’re upside-down dishes with a hole punched in them so you can string them together,” explains Bricker.

Place two or three strands a few inches from each other, and the discs audibly collide in the breeze. She offers catalog and custom colors, and often makes customers chimes with their favorite team’s colors or to match a holiday.

Bricker moved her kiln from her basement to a Longmont studio three years ago. Now she has two employees helping her fire more than 1,000 discs a month. “We are working at full capacity,” she says.