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Made in Colorado

Dobrato Resophonic Guitars

Kent Viles has been in the guitar business in Gunnison since the 1970s, first as a retailer then as a manufacturer since 2011. His Dobrato guitars are resophonic — acoustic guitars amplified by an internal metal cone — that originated in the 1920s when the Dopyera brothers sought to build a louder instrument without the help of electricity.

Viles’ Dobratos build on a near-century of resophonic innovation with a B Bender, a patented vibrato arm that allows the player to tweak a B into a C sharp. “That’s what gave it traction and made it stand out more,” says Viles, noting that it mimics the sounds of a pedal steel guitar. “I put the bender and the vibrato in your hand when it’s in the playing position. For someone who’s not used to a shoulder pull, mine’s a lot more ergonomic and easier to use.”

Viles estimates he’s made nearly 600 Dobrato guitars in all for customers including Tom Petty, Bob Weir, Jimmy Buffett and Jason Isbell.

$2,500 retail.

Made by Dobrato Resophonic Guitars, Gunnison, www.dobrato.com.

Made in Colorado

Beachfront Foods

The Caribbean sauce brand started as “a COVID project” for Patrick Gruber and his wife, Kara, in 2020. A national sales rep for Denver’s Ready Foods by day, Gruber says his grandfather, a part-time resident of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, inspired him to start the company. “I was lucky enough to go down to that part of the world and just fell in love with the culture and the food and the ingredients,” says Gruber. “It’s my favorite place in the world.”

Now available in about 20 stores from Oregon to North Carolina, Beachfront’s catalog includes spicy, jerk-style Island Sauce along with Honey Stung and Beach BBQ sauces and a few seasonings. Working with Denver-based Silver State Foods as a co-packer, Gruber says he strives to use local ingredients like sunflower oil from Lamar-based Colorado Mills.

“I’m ready for that next step,” says Gruber. “I need a Whole Foods or a Sprouts as the next step to make it make sense.”

Sauces: $8.99 retail.

Made by Beachfront Foods, Lakewood, www.beachfrontfoods.com.

Made in Colorado (Spring 2024): Alexxander Designs and Kargo Gear

All Made In Colorado’s featured companies have at least one thing in common: They all make products in Colorado. 

It underlines the sheer breadth of the products made in Colorado. While the Colorado manufacturing base is not as established as places like the Rust Belt and the Southeast, it is also unconstrained by tradition and underpinned by innovation.  

And that might be exactly what the domestic industry needs as it rides a winning streak fueled by the return of manufacturing from China and other overseas locales — no matter whether it lands in Detroit or Kremmling, Colorado. 


Alexxander Designs and Kargo Gear

Lafayette, CO

Outdoor Accessories

$55-180 Retail

Website: www.alexxanderdesigns.com

As owner of contract cut-and-sew shop Axxes Industries, Albert Tapia has manufactured bags and backpacks for a wide variety of clients. Many customers moved production overseas as they grew. “I don’t like it when brands go overseas and leave domestic manufacturers hanging,” Tapia says.

The trend led Tapia to launch a pair of brands in the last five years: Alexxander Designs and Kargo Gear. The 10-employee Axxes still manufactures for outside brands, but Alexxander and Kargo are now focal points for the business. “We try to design Kargo for the outdoors — hiking, walking, biking — and travel,” Tapia says. “Alexxander is a little more urban.”

Tapia highlights Kargo’s Loculus Sling Bag for its organization-friendly design. “We added a lot of pockets inside, including the exterior,” he says. “We haven’t gotten any bad reviews on it.”

Made in Colorado (Spring 2024): SOM Footwear

All Made In Colorado’s featured companies have at least one thing in common: They all make products in Colorado. 

It underlines the sheer breadth of the products made in Colorado. While the Colorado manufacturing base is not as established as places like the Rust Belt and the Southeast, it is also unconstrained by tradition and underpinned by innovation.  

And that might be exactly what the domestic industry needs as it rides a winning streak fueled by the return of manufacturing from China and other overseas locales — no matter whether it lands in Detroit or Kremmling, Colorado. 


SOM Footwear

Montrose, CO

Apparel

$148-184 Retail

Website: www.somfootwear.com

SOM Footwear founder Olie Marchal’s entrepreneurial journey started with a sore back. “I was a construction worker before, and when I turned 35, I started experiencing back pain,” he says. “The pain was caused by the boots I was wearing.”

That led him to make himself a pair of shoes “with a piece of rubber and some mesh I found in a thrift store,” Marchal says. “I haven’t had any back pain or other issues since.”

Now with about 10 employees, SOM (short for “Sense of Motion”) Footwear continues to make barefoot-style sneakers with the same philosophy. “I feel it’s very important to have a roomy toe box and the same feel on every model,” Marchal says. “We just use different fabrics and lacing systems.”

Marchal says “being creative” is the key to domestic shoe manufacturing, as well as a direct-to-consumer sales model. “It’s been steady growth. We can’t complain.”

Made in Colorado (Spring 2024): River Station Gear

All Made In Colorado’s featured companies have at least one thing in common: They all make products in Colorado. 

It underlines the sheer breadth of the products made in Colorado. While the Colorado manufacturing base is not as established as places like the Rust Belt and the Southeast, it is also unconstrained by tradition and underpinned by innovation.  

And that might be exactly what the domestic industry needs as it rides a winning streak fueled by the return of manufacturing from China and other overseas locales — no matter whether it lands in Detroit or Kremmling, Colorado. 


River Station Gear

Outdoor Accessories

$100-130 Retail

Website: www.riverstationgear.com

Cañon City native Jason Caligaris Jr. started River Station Gear with girlfriend Jodi McConnell in 2021. McConnell was sewing for Oveja Negra, a bikepack manufacturer in Salida, and its colorful products led them to question the limited palette of whitewater gear.

“We were like, ‘Why is no one making hot pink rafting gear?’ It just started that simply,” Caligaris explains. “We made one bag and sold it, and just kept going.”

Using high-quality materials, McConnell and Caligaris sew most of the products themselves, with a pair of bags worn around the waist driving sales. They opened a brick-and-mortar store that sells products from River Station Gear and other brands in Cañon City in late 2023, with plans to move production into the space by summer 2024.

“It’s behind other outdoorsy towns like Salida and Buena Vista, but it’s definitely headed in that direction,” Caligaris says of Cañon City.

Made in Colorado (Spring 2024): Land Ark RV

All Made In Colorado’s featured companies have at least one thing in common: They all make products in Colorado. 

It underlines the sheer breadth of the products made in Colorado. While the Colorado manufacturing base is not as established as places like the Rust Belt and the Southeast, it is also unconstrained by tradition and underpinned by innovation.  

And that might be exactly what the domestic industry needs as it rides a winning streak fueled by the return of manufacturing from China and other overseas locales — no matter whether it lands in Detroit or Kremmling, Colorado. 


Land Ark RV

Transportation & Lifestyle

Starting at $220,000 retail

Website: www.landarkrv.com

An architect by trade, Brian Buzarde built his first upscale travel trailer with his now-wife, Joni, in 2011. “It really was an unorthodox but practical solution to where we were in life,” he says. “We wanted to get out West somewhere in the mountains or somewhere pretty, and I was really itching to see something I designed get built.”

The couple bounced around the Roaring Fork Valley and lived in their trailer full-time until 2016. The next year, they started making more units and sold their first Land Ark RV in 2018 before moving into an ideal facility in Rifle in 2021. The semi-custom trailers have a sense of style that differentiates them from the “flimsy” competition, Buzarde says.

After building about five a year since 2018, their plan for 2024 is to rethink the designs with higher volumes in mind. “We need to get to something we can really scale,” says Buzarde, who cites Airstream as an inspiration. “It’s a clear contrast to what is available elsewhere.”

Made in Colorado Awards 2023: Manufacturer With a Mission

There’s a common misconception that the United States doesn’t manufacture much anymore. In reality, the country continues to out-manufacture China on a per capita basis, and domestic growth outpaced the global average for the first time in years in late 2022.

Colorado is a case in point. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that employment in Colorado’s manufacturing sector peaked in 1998 at 192,200 workers. That plummeted to 122,200 employees in 2010, but the state’s manufacturing workforce has steadily grown to surpass 150,000 as of late 2023.

With these dynamics front and center, this year’s “Made in Colorado” profiles illuminate 10 of the state’s pioneering manufacturers, makers of whiskey, satellites and just about everything in between.

READ: Inside the Colorado Semiconductor Industry Renaissance — CHIPS Act Sparks Manufacturing Revival


MANUFACTURER WITH A MISSION

WINNER — Delta Brick & Climate Company

Montrose, Colorado

Website: www.deltabrick.com

Delta Brick & Climate Company
Photo courtesy of Delta Brick & Climate Company.

Chris Caskey founded Delta Brick & Climate Company in 2018 with methane capture in mind.

In researching uses for methane from abandoned coal mines in Colorado’s North Fork Valley Caskey discovered another raw material that was abundant in the area: sediment behind the dam at Paonia Reservoir that was ideal for making brick and tile.

Delta Brick & Climate started to manufacture tile from the sediment in Montrose in 2020 and launched a brand, Particular Tile, in 2022. “It’s grown really well. September was our largest revenue month to date,” Caskey says. “Our product line is growing and we’re really getting confident in our manufacturing, which is nice.”

Delta Brick & Climate is also making progress toward the goal of capturing methane to power the operation. As of October 2023, the company was under contract to buy the old Bowie No. 1 coal mine near Paonia.

Aircraft-based sensing has shown that about 87 kilograms of methane escape from the mine every hour. “That’s a big, no smoking situation,” Caskey says. “We’re confident that there’s a lot of gas to be captured and a lot of pollution to be mitigated.”

And there’s enough methane to sustain the tile-making operation many times over. “Step one is to capture the gas and burn it to keep it out of the atmosphere,” says Caskey. “Step two is to move the factory up there.”

The longer-term vision? “We’d like to be capturing and destroying gas from at least five mine sites and using enough mud out of the reservoir that irrigators actually notice that they have more water storage — and making a bunch of beautiful products.”

FINALIST — Spinster Sisters Co.

Golden, Colorado

Website — www.spinstersistersco.com

Spinster Sister 1
Photo courtesy of Spinster Sisters Co..

Founder and CEO Kelly Perkins started Spinster Sisters in 2012 to make soap and skincare without the toxic ingredients that are all too common in the mass market. A little more than a decade later, the “microsoapery” sells online and through more than 2,000 retailers while setting an example for the industry with natural ingredients, sustainable packaging and business transparency.

FINALIST — Danconias Truffle Brownies

Boulder, Colorado

Website — www.danconias.com

Draconias 1
Photo courtesy of Danconias Truffle Brownies

The manufacturer of Danconias Truffle Brownies, Community Table Kitchen is a social enterprise of Bridge House, a nonprofit that helps adults experiencing homelessness. Trainees live in affordable housing for a year while working in baking, packaging and shipping for the brownie company. All proceeds go back into programs to support the mission, and the program has a success rate of 75 percent.

 

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer’s Colorado, Frommer’s Montana & Wyoming, Frommer’s Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver’s Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected].

Made in Colorado Awards 2023: Best Designed Goods

There’s a common misconception that the United States doesn’t manufacture much anymore. In reality, the country continues to out-manufacture China on a per capita basis, and domestic growth outpaced the global average for the first time in years in late 2022.

Colorado is a case in point. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that employment in Colorado’s manufacturing sector peaked in 1998 at 192,200 workers. That plummeted to 122,200 employees in 2010, but the state’s manufacturing workforce has steadily grown to surpass 150,000 as of late 2023.

With these dynamics front and center, this year’s “Made in Colorado” profiles illuminate 10 of the state’s pioneering manufacturers, makers of whiskey, satellites and just about everything in between.

READ: Inside the Colorado Semiconductor Industry Renaissance — CHIPS Act Sparks Manufacturing Revival


BEST DESIGNED GOODS

WINNER — Vortic Watch Company

Fort Collins, Colorado

Website: www.vorticwatches.com

Vortic 1
Photo courtesy of Vortic Watch Company.

R.T. Custer co-founded Vortic Watch Company with Tyler Wolfe in 2014 with a question in mind. “How do we make a 100 percent American-made watch, a truly made-in-USA wristwatch?” Custer says. “Pretty much everyone we talked to said, ‘Watches are made in Switzerland or China. No one makes watches in America.’”

Nearly a decade later, Custer and Wolfe have proven those doubters wrong with a novel manufacturing approach. “The only way to make a truly American-made watch was to upcycle old pocket watches and use the movement — or all of the gears and springs inside, basically all the inside of the pocket watch — and then we would make the bigger stuff that was easier to make in the U.S.,” Custer says.

With six CNC machines and 10 employees in an 8,500-square-foot shop in Fort Collins, Vortic handles the vast majority of the restoration and manufacturing in-house. “The biggest Achilles’ heel is watchmakers and the skilled trade gap,” Custer says. “There are just not very many people to work on them and restore them. The average age of a watchmaker in the United States is approaching 70.”

As Vortic Watches start at $2,000, the company is targeting a broader market with Colorado Watch Company, a new brand with a price tag around $1,000. Metal components are made in Fort Collins, with the movements and final products assembled in Arizona.

“We have hundreds of people that backed us on Kickstarter; we’ve raised over $300,000 on our campaign, so with Colorado Watch Company, our new brand, we’re making watches in America at scale now,” Custer says. “That’s exactly where the growth will come from, from those other brands, but Vortic and our pocket watches turned into wrist watches aren’t going anywhere, because that’s what people know us for, and we just love doing it.”

FINALIST — Alpine High Performance Products

Louisville, Colorado

Website — www.thinkalpen.com

The longstanding manufacturer of custom fiberglass windows and doors emphasizes energy efficiency and durability in its product line. The company has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade, from about 30 employees in 2015 to more than 140 employees today.

FINALIST — Tiny Building Experts

Greeley, Colorado

Website — www.tinybuildingexperts.com

Tiny Building 1
Photo courtesy of Tiny Building Experts.

Founded by Austin Baker and Tracy Manchego-Baker in 2018, Tiny Building Experts manufactures custom RV-certified tiny homes on wheels. The company offers a try-before-you-buy option at the Tiny Urban Overlook near downtown Denver as it builds units for a tiny home village for at-risk young adults in Colorado Springs.

 

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer’s Colorado, Frommer’s Montana & Wyoming, Frommer’s Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver’s Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected].

Made in Colorado Awards 2023: Most Innovative Manufacturer

There’s a common misconception that the United States doesn’t manufacture much anymore. In reality, the country continues to out-manufacture China on a per capita basis, and domestic growth outpaced the global average for the first time in years in late 2022.

Colorado is a case in point. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that employment in Colorado’s manufacturing sector peaked in 1998 at 192,200 workers. That plummeted to 122,200 employees in 2010, but the state’s manufacturing workforce has steadily grown to surpass 150,000 as of late 2023.

With these dynamics front and center, this year’s “Made in Colorado” profiles illuminate 10 of the state’s pioneering manufacturers, makers of whiskey, satellites and just about everything in between.

READ: Inside the Colorado Semiconductor Industry Renaissance — CHIPS Act Sparks Manufacturing Revival


MOST INNOVATIVE MANUFACTURER

WINNER — Orbit Fab

Lafayette, Colorado

Website: www.orbitfab.com

Orbit Fab An Orbit Fab Fuel Shuttle Is Docking With An On Orbit Satellite Equipped With A Rafti Refueling Port
Photo courtesy of Orbit Fab.

With a tagline of “Gas Stations in Space,” Orbit Fab is manufacturing the infrastructure to refuel spacecraft and eliminate the industry’s single-use model.

Orbit Fab’s flagship product is RAFTI (an acronym for Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface), which Chief Commercial Officer Adam Harris describes as “a refueling valve” for spacecraft that might otherwise meet a fiery demise deorbiting and reentering the atmosphere.

Now with about 50 employees, the company aligns with organizations looking to clean up space debris and make the industry more sustainable. “You want to be able to reuse that vehicle that’s in orbit,” Harris says. “Old satellites are still useful and still broadcasting, so they want to move them somewhere.”

The first RAFTI on a spacecraft launched in 2020 and transferred water to the International Space Station. Orbit Fab has since delivered a number of units to customers and developed the next generation of the product. “We’re in the midst of delivering those RAFTIs that will get launched over the next year or two,” Harris says, citing an expectation of the first refueling operation in space in 2025. In the longer term, Orbit Fab could support lunar missions by delivering fuel as well as water and other commodities via RAFTI.

The company handles the final assembly of RAFTI and other hardware in-house, but relies on a network of local contract manufacturers for machining, plating and other processes. Orbit Fab is also building the fluid systems for its fuel tankers in-house, while relying on local satellite manufacturers to build the vehicles themselves.

Launched in Silicon Valley, the company relocated to Colorado in 2021 due to the state’s formidable aerospace footprint. “We were looking at L.A., we were looking in Texas and Florida, places like that,” Harris says. “We found there’s a lot of capability in Colorado and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to move here.”

Nicknamed Tycho Station, the company’s 60,000-square-foot facility in Lafayette is an incubator of sorts. “It’s on our four-year plan to grow into that whole space, but right now, we have seven other companies that are subleasing that are space companies,” Harris says.

 

FINALIST — RK Mission Critical

Aurora, Colorado

Website — www.rkmissioncritical.com

Rk Mission Crit 1
Photo courtesy of Rk Mission Critical

A subsidiary of RK Industries, RK Mission Critical (RKMC) is making waves in vertical hydroponic farming with Sedalia-based FarmBox Foods, manufacturing stackable, 320-foot farms designed with hyper-efficiency in mind. The partnership aligns with the RKMC’s existing business manufacturing critical infrastructure for data centers, energy storage and other applications.

FINALIST — Alquist 3D

Greeley, Colorado

Website — www.alquist3d.com

The company behind the world’s first 3D-printed concrete house in 2021 relocated from Iowa to Colorado in fall 2023. Founded in 2020 by Zachary Mannheimer, Alquist 3D is now manufacturing infrastructure and proprietary concrete mix at its facility in Greeley and expects to create more than 75 jobs in the city in the next five years.

 

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer’s Colorado, Frommer’s Montana & Wyoming, Frommer’s Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver’s Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected].

Made in Colorado Awards 2023: Emerging Manufacturer

There’s a common misconception that the United States doesn’t manufacture much anymore. In reality, the country continues to out-manufacture China on a per capita basis, and domestic growth outpaced the global average for the first time in years in late 2022.

Colorado is a case in point. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that employment in Colorado’s manufacturing sector peaked in 1998 at 192,200 workers. That plummeted to 122,200 employees in 2010, but the state’s manufacturing workforce has steadily grown to surpass 150,000 as of late 2023.

With these dynamics front and center, this year’s “Made in Colorado” profiles illuminate 10 of the state’s pioneering manufacturers, makers of whiskey, satellites and just about everything in between.

READ: Inside the Colorado Semiconductor Industry Renaissance — CHIPS Act Sparks Manufacturing Revival


EMERGING MANUFACTURER

WINNER — Prometheus Materials

Longmont, Colorado

Website: www.prometheusmaterials.com

Prometheus 1
Photo courtesy of Prometheus Materials.

A project by the University of Colorado and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) led to a method to decarbonize concrete.

DARPA “wanted to see if there was a way to use living materials and local sand … to create protective structures for troops and high-value assets,” says Loren Burnett, the company’s president and CEO.

Using algae and biomimicry that replicates the natural processes that create seashells and coral reefs, the researchers found that the algae sequestered carbon. “At the end, they realized, ‘Well, geez, not only did we create bioconcrete, but we created zero-carbon bioconcrete,’” Burnett says, noting that concrete and cement are responsible for 8 percent of global CO2 emissions.

The result wasn’t exactly what DARPA was looking for, but Burnett saw huge potential in pivoting the application from defense to construction and joined forces with the researchers to license the technology from CU and start the company in 2021.

Since raising an $8 million Series A round in 2022, the 16-employee company has established a pilot production facility in Longmont to grow algae and manufacture at a demonstration-level volume. Its first products, Bio-Blocks, are now being showcased during the Chicago Architecture Biennial in a spiral wall designed by global architectural leader Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

“We’re in the process of raising a Series B round of funding that will enable us to complete a 35,000-square-foot bioconcrete production facility within about a 20-mile radius of our facility here in Longmont,” Burnett says.

Once the round closes, the catalog will expand in a big way, he adds. “We’re not a block company. That’s just our first form factor. We are a zero-carbon biocement and zero-carbon bioconcrete company that can make any number of different types of precast products that include blocks but certainly are not limited to that. Then, a year from now, we’ll be delivering our ready-mix version of bioconcrete.”

 

FINALIST — Friction Labs

Denver, Colorado

Website — www.frictionlabs.com

Friction All3 Boxes On Rock
Photo courtesy of Friction Labs.

Setting a new standard making chalk for athletes in need of a good grip, Friction Labs has grown dramatically since Kevin Brown and Keah Kalantari co-founded the company in 2014. Customers of the catalog of loose, liquid and disc chalks include rock climbers, weightlifters and gymnasts. 

FINALIST — Pretred

Aurora, Colorado

Website — www.pretred.com

Pretred 2
Photo courtesy of Pretred.

Recycling waste tires into barriers for highways, construction sites and other locations, Pretred launched its first manufacturing facility in Aurora in 2022. Every mile of barrier diverts more than 1.4 million pounds of waste tires from landfills or burning, with a 98 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from traditional concrete barriers. 

 

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer’s Colorado, Frommer’s Montana & Wyoming, Frommer’s Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver’s Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected].