Kremmling, Colorado

Co-owners Jason and Julie Savage have leveraged automation since losing their machine shop’s employees when they moved it to the Rockies from Nebraska.

Photos Jonathan Castner

Subsequent to more than a decade working as a machinist, Jason started Petrel Industries as a one-man waterjet shop in Nebraska in 2007, then acquired a CNC mill and lathe in 2010.

He reconnected with Julie in 2013, 20 years after they dated in high school. Not only did Jason hire Julie to help in the office, he married her.

Over the years, Petrel grew to seven employees. That number dropped to two — Jason and Julie — in 2019 when the Savages moved themselves and the company to a 7,000-square-foot shop they had built in Kremmling, Colorado.

The main rationale? Access to the slopes. After starting his machining career in Colorado in the mid-1990s, Jason was unable to scratch his skiing itch in Nebraska. Now that Kremmling is the Savages’ home base, Copper Mountain and Keystone are among their favorite resorts.

Many Nebraska clients continue to source parts from Petrel, which now makes parts for medical, energy, agriculture, automotive, and other industries. “We picked up a few customers out here,” says Julie. “Most of our customers are our usuals that we had back in Omaha, but we ship all over.”

Julie says the wide-ranging client base has its benefits. “When there’s downturns like COVID, you’re better off diversified,” she explains. “We try to help everyone we can, even the walk-ins in town that need a part fixed.”

The shop’s forte is CNC turning. “Our turning capabilities are our strong suit,” says Jason, citing experience in materials ranging from plastic to bronze. “That’s our best equipment and our best expertise.”

While the focus is contract customers, Julie launched an in-house brand by taking advantage of excess waterjet capacity before the move to Colorado. Her garden-art brand, Dawgs Abound, has a catalog of metal canine silhouettes from Shih Tzus to Great Danes, and she’s also added moose, elk, and other animals.

“We had a couple dogs we lost in the matter of a year or two,” says Julie. “So I decided to make a garden stake for the dogs, and then I thought other people might be interested in this, so I just kept adding breeds.” She sells them online and in stores and markets in Steamboat Springs, Frisco, and elsewhere in the Rockies.

Petrel Industries currently uses 12-foot bar feeders on its turning centers, along with parts catchers and live tooling. Automation “has been really good for us,” says Jason. “Our turning centers are both equipped with 12-foot bar feeders, so almost everything we do goes in a full bar and comes out a finished part. We almost never do secondary operations.”

Julie says a new DMG MORI NLX 2500SY “has been amazing for us,” adding, “We’re able to keep costs down for our customers by getting it done in one operation. That’s a huge plus for us.”

Challenges: The main challenge is running the company without employees in the shop. “Everything falls on us,” says Jason. “We have six different jobs each. Sometimes, that works out fairly well, and other times, not so much.”

“Everybody struggles with employees,” says Julie, noting that the cost of living has shot up in Kremmling in recent years. “There are so many people struggling to find places to live out here, partly because of the Troublesome Fire.”

Another challenge, she adds, is breaking into new industries. “It’s tough getting a hold of the buyers,” she says.

Opportunities: Jason sees the diverse customer base as a positive. “We don’t have any two industries in the same industry,” he says. “I think that’s kind of good. We didn’t seek it out, it just happened that way. We’ve had good luck with small to medium-sized companies as far as customers go.”

Adds Julie: “Word of mouth has done a lot for us. We haven’t done a whole lot of marketing.”

She also cites reshoring as an opportunity. “We just hope that just continues to happen,” she says, adding, “We do like the ag and medical industries.”

Needs: “Experienced help and some good customers,” says Julie. “All of these big corporations beat you down as much as they can. They get the cheapest price they can. Getting good customers who will pay a fair price for parts, that’s kind of important. Everybody has to pay their bills.”