FREDERICK — Paul Harter knows how to make your recreational vehicle warm and cozy. He also knows how to light a fire under Northern Colorado’s next generation of leaders.
As president and chief executive of Frederick-based Aqua-Hot Heating Systems, Harter carries on founder Harold “Hap” Enander’s vision of providing quiet, reliable and consistent interior heat and continuous on-demand hot water in RVs. But he also carries on Enander’s passion for finding ways to brighten the future for area youths.
“One of the last things Hap told me before he died was, ‘Take my assets and continue my work.’” Harter said. So Harter founded and chairs the Enander Family Foundation, which has given more than $2 million to youth programming in Northern Colorado. Through a $1 million endowment, the foundation took the gift of a dude ranch north of Masonville from the Ward family and turned it into a youth camp and community retreat center, Sky Corral Ranch.
Harter also teaches at Front Range Community College, conducts company-culture seminars and serves on a state workforce board, pursuing partnerships between high schools, colleges, businesses and industries. He was a co-founder of the NoCo Manufacturing Partnership, which won a BizWest Bravo! award in 2017.
“But all that,” he said, “came out of making RV heaters. People can have interior heat and hot water out of one little box. You can have an endless hot shower in your RV; as long as there’s water and fuel, we’ve got all the hot water you want.”
Enander founded the company as Vehicle Systems Inc. in 1984 to manufacture and sell various RV accessories. As the business grew, he knew it needed additional leadership and hired Harter, an Illinois native, to improve quality control and help it diversify into other RV-based products and industries.
“Most of my work had been in the computer and automotive industry,” Harter said. “I made components for computer disk drives, and went from there to the automotive service parts industry and to a Chrysler engine and cockpit assembly plant. But I loved Colorado because my mom lived in Leadville so I spent my summers out here.
“One of the first things I did was talk to Hap about changing the company’s name and brand image,” he said. “We went to our first trade show as Vehicle Systems, but people saw our Aqua-Hot and Hydra-Hot products on display and they were confused. They thought we were a dealer. So I told him, ‘Everybody knows us as Aqua-Hot. It’s time to follow that horse to the water it wants to drink.’ ”
Harter became president of the company when Enander died in 2009. In addition to the RV line, Aqua-Hot now produces the Work Ready line of hydronic heating systems for commercial fleets, school buses, industrial and oilfield applications.
Harter retains his titles at Aqua-Hot, but “I stepped back in January, promoted my chief financial officer to general manager and gave the team a chance to grow,” he said. Now he has more time to pursue his various roles in workforce development in Northern Colorado, he said, because “the men and women of Aqua-Hot gave me the freedom.”