Following A Dream of Place While Building America
"Ever since I was seven, I wanted to be a Vermonter," says Annie Gorin, 36, whose work as a process specialist at Vermont's Hubbardton Forge is to develop step-by-step procedures to ensure that each piece meets a designer's specifications.
Long before joining the Forge, she fell in love with Vermont. A family vacation on Lake Champlain got her hooked. So from Greenwich, Conn., she headed north to Green Mountain College for a fine arts degree. A gifted sculptor and welder, she joined the company in 2004.
Now in a leadership role, Gorin still works the forge when she can. One of her specialties is Hubbardton's signature twist baskets. First, she welds cords of steel together and fires them in the forge until they're red hot, applying the heat where she wants the basket to grow. Gorin then fastens the cords into a twisting machine controlled by an old tractor steering wheel. Turning the wheel, she compresses the cords, creating a bubble that gives the basket its shape, the precise contours determined by the number of turns and how hard the cords are squeezed.
"I look at this place as my playground at work," Gorin explains. "Even though I'm building somebody else's product, there's a creative aspect to it and I feel like I still have that outlet."
When he was 15, K.C. Walsh spent a summer on one of Montana's rivers, the Bitterroot near Missoula, fishing with his grandfather. "It was just a magical time. In the back of my mind I always thought, how am I going to get back to Montana?" Walsh says.
In 1992, more than 20 years later, Walsh (now in his mid-30s) was looking to settle down in Los Angeles. His wife was pregnant with their first child, but the Big Sky State and its rivers filled his thoughts.
Almost on a whim, Walsh (now 59) decided to swap a good job as a management consultant (but with a long commute, high housing prices and the smoggy air of Southern California) for an uncertain future in Bozeman, Mont. At least, he thought, there'd be fishing.
But a year into the new life, he heard that Life-Link International Inc. was looking to sell its Simms Fishing Products division. Started in 1980 by Jackson, Wyo., fishing guide John Simms, the company had moved its wader factory to Bozeman in 1988, but the division was struggling to stay solvent. Despite the company's problems and stiff competition, Walsh decided to buy it and become president of Simms Fishing Products. Back then, there were nine wader manufacturers in the U.S. Today, Simms stands alone.
When Dan Marino was 14, his family drove through Jackson, Wyoming on a summer road trip. "We came in through Togwotee Pass in the north," he remembers. "I saw the Snow King ski resort, and I tapped my mom on the shoulder and said I'm moving here." He never said another word about that daydream until he graduated from high school. That's when he loaded up his 1966 Mustang with everything he owned. "My mom said, 'Where on earth are you going?' I said, 'Jackson Hole,' and I never looked back," says Marino, now 53.
Making a living in a resort town wasn't simple. For years, Marino ran a power washing business, cleaning everything from log homes to commercial kitchen stove hoods. And he worked part-time cutting steaks and filleting fish at the now-shuttered Cadillac Grille, a popular restaurant on Jackson's historic town square. He met his wife, Suzanne there. She was an owner and chef. Then, in 1997, Suzanne saw a tiny classified ad in the local newspaper. The Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Co., founded in 1947, was for sale.
"It was the perfect fit," Suzanne says of the company. It seemed to epitomize Dan's love of Jackson, the nearby Teton Mountains and the broad valleys cut by the Snake River. "He's just so passionate about this place." They bought the business, which sold buffalo jerky as well as cuts of game meat out of a small storefront and via mail order, and set out to see if they could combine business with the love of the land.
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