Greatness never comes easy.

The adage has never been more true for the stellar list of companies gathered last week in Denver, where winners of the 2021 Colorado Manufacturing Awards accepted trophies in person after a virtual “winners reveal” in April. Smiles, and a welcome sense of normalcy, displaced months of uncertainty and at times frustration, for one beautiful fall evening.

Yet comments from the CMA winners were uniformly blunt: Today, manufacturing is hard. Workforce and supply-chain challenges top the list — made worse by COVID-19. And for these companies, all flashing industry-leading attributes, recent headwinds only add to what still is a business culture that tilts away from manufacturing.

Their journey has clearly made success that much sweeter, though, and to a person, the companies and people in the CMA spotlight would be doing nothing else. A love of manufacturing runs deep in this group.

Others should be less sanguine. The blunt message from manufacturers here only works to emphasize a harsh truth: The consequences of abandoning U.S. manufacturing are coming home to roost, and it’s a sour symphony. The less we make here, the harder it is for companies to find employees, as products made for us by others languish in containers off the coast of California and other places. The number of vessels docked offshore seems to increase at the same rate as America’s trade imbalance — that again has reached record levels.

Many in business see it differently. Vocal, influential voices blame an inadequate supply and logistical network, not a lack of domestic manufacturing, for current disruptions. Others cite the inevitability of a service economy and downplay the importance of where products are made.

I’ve had a friendly debate going with Brian Lewandowski of the CU Leeds School of Business the past few years that goes something like this: Brian thinks I exaggerate the importance of the manufacturing economy in Colorado — and the U.S. for that matter. Even as I write this, Brian may be at work disproving my hypothesis — that the outcomes weighing on our economy have arisen as manufacturing employment has declined.

But if there’s no one to hire, it may not matter. The struggles of CMA winners to find qualified employees is more of the same. The sector is laboring through an employment crisis. To call it anything less is a dodge.

It begs the question we’ll address this fall in subsequent columns: What’s being done?

In the interim, congratulations to the people and companies in attendance last week to celebrate manufacturing — and look forward to early November when we open nominations for the 2022 Colorado Manufacturing Awards.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Email him at

2021 CMA Winners Recap: