CompanyWeek turns seven this September. Twice in the past seven years, we’ve ranked Colorado’s top manufacturing communities, most recently in early 2017. Our criteria then: a growing, compelling industry or cluster of maker industries, supported by purposeful public/private efforts to build a robust manufacturing economy.

Here’s the 2017 list, followed by the 2015 ranking:

  1. Fort Collins/Loveland (2015 ranking: 3)
  2. Denver (2015 ranking: 2)
  3. Boulder County (2015 ranking: 1)
  4. Grand Junction/Palisade (2015 ranking: 5)
  5. Colorado Springs/Pueblo (2015 ranking: 4)

A couple things immediately stand out: However you cut and slice the geography, Northern Colorado, especially if you include Boulder County, is a production mecca. Fort Collins/Loveland/Windsor, Boulder/Longmont/Frederick, and parts in between or adjacent all flash nation-leading sector attributes.

Combining Colorado Springs and Pueblo into a single community was a mistake. Each is intent on carving its own path. We’d also marry Aurora with Denver. The synergy is self-evident, even as Denver’s northwest neighbors are carving more autonomous tracks.

Along with those geo-adjustments, we added two important criteria: high-profile manufacturing OEMs, brands, or contract manufacturers that call a community home; and sector diversity, i.e., the prevalence of multiple manufacturing industries. Manufacturing’s modern personality is shaped by multiple growth industries.

Here, then, is the 2020 list:

1. Fort Collins/Loveland/Windsor

The economic engine in northern Colorado is powered by a manufacturing sector that crushes all of our criteria: a powerful mix of growth industries, anchored by national and global OEMs, upstart brands, innovative contract manufacturers all supported by enthusiastic economic development professionals and civic leaders who see value in a vibrant manufacturing economy. The Northern Colorado Manufacturing Partnership touches more companies than any sector trade association in the state. There’s the NoCo powerhouse, and everyone else.

Top Industries: Food & Beverage; Brewing & Distilling; Industrial & Equipment; Consumer & Lifestyle; Aerospace & Transportation

Top Companies:

2 (tie). Denver/Aurora

Denver wants it all, and why not? The city continues to attract brands and companies from across the economic spectrum. But its high-tech production ecosystem lags, and interest in food and beverage, outdoor industry, consumer and high-tech brands often begins and ends with corporate relocations.

Adding Aurora changes the calculation. Its cadre of companies, more expansive real estate opps, and emerging bioscience cluster combine to provide the east metro a ton of potential to locate more manufacturing. If Denver would shake off it’s ambivalence to prioritize advanced manufacturing, it might keep its brands from outsourcing production to distant places and rewrite the history of manufacturing in the Rocky Mountain region.

Top Industries: Building & Construction; Food & Beverage; Brewing & Distilling; Aerospace & Transportation; Consumer & Lifestyle; Cannabis & Hemp

Top Companies:

2 (tie). Boulder County

Readers were only mildly surprised when we anointed Boulder County the top spot in our 2015 ranking. There wasn’t much to argue: Boulder’s natural and organic food sector, powered by production innovators like Fresca Foods, was leading a national revolution to tip over America’s vast industrial food play. Wall Street investors now dot the funding landscape here.

Today, an innovation ethos continues to inform growth in powerhouse industries like aerospace, outdoor industry, and cannabis, where Boulder companies are among first movers that have established Colorado cannabis manufacturing as the most healthy and stable ecosystem in the nation. A thriving ecosystem of capable contract manufacturers feed off the area’s rich R&D legacy. Longmont is a perfect complement and home to a growing number of fabricators and producers across the industry spectrum.

Mix in Broomfield, Boulder County’s autonomous-minded neighbor with its bevy of high-profile manufacturing brands, and Colorado’s industrial character continues to tilt down U.S. 36.

Boulder County and manufacturing? Uh, yeah.

Top industries: Aerospace & Transportation; Food & Beverage; Bioscience & Medical; Consumer & Lifestyle; Cannabis & Hemp

Top Companies:

4. Arvada

It seems we’re always writing about great manufacturers from Arvada. Barber-Nichols’ high-flying fabricators are winning awards at the same time the company adds space and people to accommodate growth, to name one.

Arvada EDA and Jefferson County officials are always quick to mention manufacturing and despite the cut-and-run by Molson Coors, the area largely retains an impressive beer manufacturing footprint. Leaders in this eclectic manufacturing enclave continue to piece together a cogent, enthusiastic message that both supports current bellwether brands as it appeals to new industry players.

Top Industries: Aerospace & Electronics; Food & Beverage; Industrial & Equipment

Top Companies:

5. Colorado Springs

Leaders in Colorado’s second-largest city seem intent on building an economic brand around two industries: cybersecurity and tourism. Manufacturing is an important corollary to the defense industry here including cybersecurity, but the town has not fully rallied to tourism-related opportunities like outdoor industry manufacturing, or cannabis, which Mayor John Suthers openly undermines, despite the presence of national heavyweights like Hemp Depot and Folium Biosciences.

Yet the city’s mix of capable contract manufacturers, global OEMs in industrial/equipment and bioscience manufacturing, and an intrepid craft sector anchored by successful brewing and distilling brands, land Colorado Springs in the top five.

Top Industries: Bioscience & Medical; Industrial & Equipment; Aerospace & Electronics; Brewing & Distilling; Cannabis & Hemp

Top Companies:

Honorable Mention: Grand Junction/Palisade/Montrose

We can only hope for a united Western Slope manufacturing corridor, but too much water has flowed under the bridges that cross the Gunnison and Uncompahgre rivers. The combined assets would fuel a regional economic renaissance: industry diversity, a legacy but innovative industrial base, global brands, the latent talent and promise of a rural workforce, agriculture’s auspicious influence, and more. All framed by the allure of lifestyle and the promise of the trillion-dollar outdoor industry.

Like Denver, Grand Junction is more covetous perhaps of a tech economy than an industrial awakening after years of boom-and-bust cycles with oil and gas. Who can blame them? Montrose is more purposeful around manufacturing, with energetic economic development that’s lined up behind the outdoor industry in the form of the forward-looking Colorado Outdoors development.

We’ve ranked Grand Junction in the top five before. It’s left to business and civic leaders to thread the needle and find a way to rally around manufacturing as it matures as a high-tech outpost. And, possibly, lead a deliberate effort to align with Montrose, Steamboat Springs, and Durango to onshore the vast Asian production ecosystem that manufacturers the toys of America’s outdoor industry brands. Many are located in Colorado.

Top Industries: Energy & Environment; Industrial & Equipment; Consumer & Lifestyle; Brewing & Distilling; Food & Beverage

Top Companies:

Grand Junction/Palisade: