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Make It in Denver: Manufacturing Re-Shored

An employee quality checks products at Intertech Plastics.

Handles are snapped into place on an assembly line at Intertech Plastics.

Intertech Plastics helps companies make their products in the U.S.A.

Never Summer Industries makes more than 120 snowboards a day.

A Never Summer employee assembles one part of their longboard.

Never Summer Industries just upgraded to a 26,000 square foot location.

The printing area of Never Summer Industries.

Exports of manufactured goods in Colorado grew 5.7 percent during the past decade, generating $6.7 billion in 2011. And those in the industry agree that the market likely will continue to expand as more companies see the benefits of making goods locally.
Mark Manger's newest invention is the GrOpener, advertised as the world's fastest one-handed bottle opener. Manger, a photographer, applied artist and inventor from Denver, knew exactly how he wanted to manufacture the GrOpener: locally.
 
"I want to make something here," Manger explains.
 
In 2007, Manger invented what he calls the Zoot Snoot, a tool for photographers. Manger wanted to build the product in the United States, and so started making calls to local manufacturers to obtain price quotes. The result, he says, was plenty of costly options that wouldn't have made financial sense. 
 
Finally, he found a company in California that could connect him with a low-cost manufacturing option in Taiwan. The overall experience was not ideal, Manger says.
 
"It was fine in the end, it just took a long time," Manger says, noting that it took months to receive a prototype and the design process was difficult because the manufacturer didn't offer any feedback. "I would have liked to be able to talk to
"We get inquiries from companies looking to return manufacturing to the U.S. almost every day," says Intertech Plastics' Tim Nakari. "It just makes you feel good as a manufacturer."
someone and have input."

Ultimately, Manger concludes: "That was a tedious way to do it."
 
For the GrOpener, Manger decided to do things differently, so he started making some calls. Manger eventually found that he could keep costs low if he had the extrusions for the gadget done in Utah and then had those components shipped to Denver. Then Manger found separate but inexpensive locations in Denver for the necessary cutting, tumbling, anodization and logo application. Manger said he adds the GrOpener's magnets himself.
 
"Once I started calling and asking for quotes … I found it was very affordable to have it done here," he says. Today the GrOpener is available online and at seven Denver retail locations.
 
Manufacturing -- and re-shoring -- on the rise
 
According to the U.S. Commerce Department, American exports totaled $2.2 trillion in 2012, eclipsing the previous record 
of $2.1 trillion in exports in 2011. The Obama administration says the figures offer "proof that 'Made in the USA' products are in demand all over the world." Separately, the National Association of Manufacturers found that manufacturers in Colorado accounted for 7.8 percent of the state's total output in 2011, or $20.6 billion, and employed 5.7 percent of the
total workforce -- figures that are also an increase over previous years.
 
And perhaps most importantly, Boston Consulting Group predicts that 2.5 million to 5 million direct and indirect manufacturing jobs will return to the U.S. from abroad by 2020.
 
Manger's GrOpener is part of that "re-shoring" trend, and is by no means alone.
 
Tim Nakari, Director of Marketing for Denver-based manufacturing company Intertech Plastics, explains that "companies are bringing things back to the U.S."
 
Nakari says that, in some cases, it's cheaper for companies to build products locally. For example, he says one of Intertech's customers decided to build its plastic storage bins in Denver because it was less expensive to build them locally and then distribute them in the western part of the country than ship them all the way from China.An employee quality checks products at Intertech Plastics.
 
Further, some designers -- like Manger -- are concerned that overseas manufacturers might steal their designs. "There's less of an anticompetitive threat if they stay domestic," Nakari explains.
 
Finally, Nakari says that financing is more readily available in the U.S. "It's easier to finance things in the U.S. rather than wiring money overseas," he notes, explaining that Chinese manufacturers generally only accept cash while U.S.-based manufacturing companies can work on credit. "That's something that not everyone realizes when they say, 'Oh, I'll just manufacture this in China.'"
 
"We get inquiries from companies [looking to return manufacturing operations to the United States] almost every day now," Nakari concludes. "It just makes you feel good as a manufacturer."
 
'Made in the USA'  a big selling point
 
Aside from cost, some manufacturers see domestic operations as a key marketing message. 
 
"We do all the manufacturing of all our fishhooks here," says Chris Russell, marketing director for Wright & McGill Co., owners of the Eagle Claw-brand fishhook. "It gives us a point of differentiation. That's a point we can really take to market."
 
Eagle Claw, which has manufactured its fishhooks in Denver since 1925, outsourced the manufacture of its Eagle Claw-branded rods and reels in the 1960s due in order to save costs on the labor-intensive product. But Russell said the company still makes fishhooks locally, which he says saves the company money on shipping and "the quality we can deliver we feel is a huge benefit."
 
"Our company has always said, 'We're going to make them here,'" Russell says.
 
The "Made in USA" stamp is also important in the relatively new business of snowboarding. While rivals like K2 and Burton have moved manufacturing overseas, snowboard maker Never Summer Industries plans to continue building its snowboards and skis here in Denver. "As for outsourcing, that's not really an option for us," says Vince Sanders, product developer for Never Summer.
 
Never Summer Industries just upgraded to a 26,000 square foot location.In fact, Never Summer is moving into a new manufacturing facility here in Denver, expanding to 26,000 square feet from the company's previous location of 19,000 square feet. The company currently churns out 120 snowboards, 60 longboards and 50 pairs of skis per day.
 
Sanders says that most of Never Summer's materials are local too: The company's raw wood blocks come from Fort Collins, for example.
 
"We've already invested a great deal in the fact that our boards are made here. Consumers appreciate that our boards are made here," Sanders says. "We're committed to continuing to make our boards not only here in the U.S. but here in Colorado."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Mike Dano.

Mike is a freelance writer and executive editor of FierceMarkets Telecom Group.
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