As you drive through Eagle County, it's no surprise that the area is making a living on the hills that bookend the Interstate. There's plenty of world class skiing to be had in Vail or Beaver Creek. Continue on down the road though, and you'll find another part of the valley making a different living off those hills: Gypsum, Colorado.
"You can see the outcroppings as you drive down the Interstate, that whitish rock that is sticking out of the mountainside," said Chuck Zaruba, the factory manager at American Gypsum.
That white rock – the mineral is gypsum – is a key component for making drywall. Zaruba said the factory produces 2.1 million square feet of drywall products a day. That's enough to stretch along I-70 from Gypsum to Denver (133 miles if you were curious).
"So the plant is obviously a large employer for the area," Zaruba said. "We're a small rural area, a town of about 5,000 people. This plant provides jobs for about 100 people."
Gypsum (the mineral in this case, not the town) is a soft sulfate used in both plaster products and fertilizer. The open-pit mine that feeds the American Gypsum plant is directly across I-70; Zaruba notes that the company holds the mineral rights on several parcels of land and should have enough gypsum reserves for the next 100 years.
Nationwide, Zaruba said there are about 40 to 50 gypsum factories. With only one in Colorado though, most of the wallboard used in homes along the Front Range, likely comes from his factory.
The American Gypsum factory currently produces drywall 5 days a week and could, if needed, run 7 days a week. But that wasn't always the case.
"During the low point in the housing market, this plant was down to 3 days a week. But our company is very conservative and even during that downturn if you could go and look at our financials we were still making money at that point," he said.
While it was tough during the recession, Zaruba said the factory continued employing residents, and now that the recession has subsided, it's been able to increase production and benefits.
"But we've been very fortunate and our people have been very loyal and we've given a lot of that back to them."
Zaruba said his company will continue to be an employer in the small community, regardless of the changes in the housing market. That's good for Zaruba too, he lives nearby in Eagle.
"It's definitely a family oriented community, and I do mean community," Zaruba said. "When you go anywhere in Eagle or Gypsum you run into people you know whether it's the bank, church, the grocery store you will always find people that you know anywhere you go and it's a great community and a great place to live."