Breckenridge Brewery in Denver International Airport.
A series featuring up-and-coming innovations born or growing up in Wyoming
Members of the Wyoming Business Council staff hear it all the time as we travel the state: We have so many great ideas and companies flying under the radar right here in Wyoming. I wish more people knew what was going on.
The Great Ideas series is our effort to tell those stories that make Wyoming proud.
If you know of an original, innovative business picking up steam in your neck of the woods, get in touch with Baylie Evans at email@example.com.
Travelers along nearly any stretch of highway in Wyoming are likely to see snow fences lining the landscape – wooden barriers that prevent snow from drifting on roadways during Wyoming’s windy winter storms.
Meanwhile, across the country – or even on the opposite side of the world – folks cozy up with a cup of coffee inside a Starbucks, sometimes designed with trendy weathered wood.
These two dichotomous scenes have something unexpected in common: Wyoming wood.“We build, maintain and recycle a majority of the snow fences along the highways in Wyoming,” said Joe DeBaisio, marketing manager for Centennial Woods. “Since 1999, we’ve milled the old fence slats into wall paneling, flooring and siding, and have sold to customers all over the world. Some of our bigger clients are Starbucks, Cabela’s, Whole Foods and Red Lobster.”
Headquartered in Laramie, the company began growing internationally in 1999 when University of Wyoming graduate John Pope purchased it. Pope realized most of the wood from Wyoming's snow fences was burned or tossed in a landfill when it needed to be replaced, and he knew there had to be a better use for that naturally aged wood.
Wyoming’s intense winters create some beautiful wood. When allowed to weather for seven to 10 years – while also helping protect Wyoming’s highways – it has a gray, shabby-chic type of look that architects and designers love.
Because the wood has never been chemically treated or painted, consumers don’t have to worry about harmful off-gassing, lead paint, insects or other contaminates. And, since it doesn’t have to undergo the energy-intensive process of kiln drying, it is a carbon-negative product. Using it even contributes to LEED certification for buildings.
Since 2017, Centennial Woods has repurposed more than 22.3 million feet of reclaimed wood and avoided more than 18,000 tons of CO2 emissions.
Because the company continuously deconstructs and rebuilds the fences, the business model is endlessly repeatable, DeBaisio added. It typically employs 30 to 50 people.
Over the years, they’ve discovered and developed a strong worldwide market for the product. It can be found in every state and internationally in Japan, Kuwait, Russia, Australia, China, Singapore and the U.K. Some of their biggest customers are international chains like Starbucks, Shake Shack and Whole Foods, who need enough wood for a consistent look in hundreds of stores.
“Being a Wyoming company has helped get us customers,” DeBaisio said. “When we first started, our customers were mostly people building cabins and using the wood for rustic applications. Now, we’re selling to inner-city high rises, restaurants and high-profile types of projects like that. To get a product from a location that feels like a different world, it’s fascinating to them.”