Craig businesses host Governor Polis during tour of Western Slope
Amid the contentious discussion of the implementation of the Office of Just Transition and the considerable changes it will mean to the region’s economic landscape, business owners in Craig saw a recent visit from the Colorado governor as part of a larger tour of the Western Slope.
Following a speaking engagement in Glenwood Springs Friday morning, Gov. Jared Polis visited Craig businesses Good Vibes River Gear and Masterworks Mechanical while en route to a similar visit to Hayden, as well as an additional Just Transition session.
Polis spoke with Good Vibes owner Josh Veenstra about his experience crafting mesh gear for river usage.
“It’s fun to see some real innovation like Josh, who used to do sewing at the plant and now doing that to expand that recreation economy,” Polis said.
While in downtown Craig, Polis met with Masterworks owners Vic and Amy Updike for a brief discussion about their business and more specifically their efforts to expand their service area and enhance employee training on a regular basis.
“We’re really looking to see how we can help grow the economy and create good jobs in Craig and across Western Colorado,” Polis said. “We’re trying to make sure all our communities have what they need to thrive. These are critical services.”
Since taking ownership of the business — which includes multiple home and industrial services — from founder Dave DeRose, the Updikes have sought to increase their staffing, now at 27 workers, as well as increasing their service radius.
Masterworks sees customers as far south as Meeker, as far west as Dinosaur and Rangely, as far east as Granby and as far north as Baggs, Wyoming.
“We thought we could bring more dollars in, but it’s all part of keeping the service here in Craig since that’s where the heart is,” Vic said. “The other thing is just to keep more Craig people with us.”
During Polis’s quick window of time on the premises, the couple highlighted their efforts to make sure anyone on their payroll has as much expertise as possible, with certifications in HVAC, refrigeration, combustion, and electrical work to name a few.
While the Masterworks business hosts occasional training sessions with state funding that sees attendance from vocational workers along the Western Slope, weekly sessions of a program dubbed Masterworks University strives to offer hands-on learning on a more regular, weekly basis.
“We’ve been bringing on a guest speaker in their field in each phase of those,” Vic said. “We try to build them up to those heights. In that training, we’re trying to instill in their minds that you don’t just do it like the industry does it. You can do that to exist, but the way you thrive is to do it with a little bit more excellence.”
Vic joked that the Updikes’ own “little bit more excellence” to provide incentive to attend training is Amy’s cooking.
At one point, Masterworks boasted more certified combustion workers on staff than any other similar business in the nation, according to the Updikes.
“We felt that everyone from the helpers to the plumbers to the installers needed to have that certification, so that was pretty cool,” Vic said. “We did that one all out of pocket. Since then, there’s been some shops that wanted to that too, so I don’t know if we still hold the title. We might come close.”
While everyone has a different background and experience levels, Vic noted that one of his employees began as a high school dropout before achieving his GED and taking extensive classes in every facet of the business.
“He’ll be testing as a master plumber. There’s three levels to get there, and he’s been self-motivated to make it through this,” Vic said. “He’s really a self-made man; you just give him stuff and get out of the way. He takes care of it. Those are the kind of people you want.”
Vic added that Polis’s office reached out to get an idea of the Masterworks model.
“They heard about the unique way that we do business, and they wanted to stop by and find out about the nuts and bolts,” he said. “Amy and I really tried to key in on the way that we do things.”
Vic noted that with shifts in the energy industry, the next 10 years in Craig will be full of changes.
“We’re gonna be here throughout that, so anything we can do to help promote that to where the community thrives instead of the whole gloom and doom thing,” he said.
Joining Polis and his staff on the visits to Northwest Colorado sites was Katharina Papenbrock with Colorado’s Office of Economic Development & International Trade.
Based in Ouray, Papenbrock is one of a handful of representatives for the agency which works between the state and rural communities to determine the economic picture for areas undergoing changes in the business world.
“Having the Just Transition meetings in Craig and Hayden, that’s a major legislative piece, and they’re really invested in trying to listen,” she said. “They know comes from the communities and the communities collaborating. This is just step one, so they’ll be back up here. It’s many phases of a long process.”
While the idea of Just Transition and the details surrounding it have had a mixed reaction from area residents, Papenbrock believes the process has been an “open, honest conversation” as feedback is collected.
“To the credit of all of the communities, everybody’s been super-passionate in all of the conversations we’ve had,” she said. “It’s about kind of the fears and the worries but also the assets you have here. The strength of the community here is really incredible, and the talent and the pool of people you have here was one of my biggest takeaways.
“It’s really good to see all the groups, like city, county, Chamber, all of them, just getting together and talking and making sure this is all addressed correctly. The challenge is large, of course, but it’s all about working together.”
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There may finally be some movement regarding the vacant Golden Cavvy building and the empty Spicy Basil restaurant in downtown Craig.