In early 2013, as state legislatures throughout the United States passed stricter gun laws, firearms manufacturers headquartered in Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and New York announced, one by one, that they were looking for new homes.
With the starting shots fired, the race had begun. Governors, state legislatures and economic development organizations from Texas, South Carolina, Idaho, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Mississippi, Utah and Wyoming have been competing in a dash to attract the companies.
Gov. Matt Mead is pleased to have the two companies in Laramie, said his spokesman, Renny MacKay.
"It shows a resurgence in manufacturing and that Wyoming can meet the needs of diverse business enterprises," McKay said in an email. Maverick Ammunition also does business as Ammo Kan. "Maverick’s CEO noted unprecedented demand for Maverick’s product. For Wyoming this means more jobs and more opportunities to work here."
Firearms aficionados tend to be more vocal than consumers of other products. For them, guns are sacred, the right to bear arms enshrined in the Bill of Rights, said Mike Bazinet, director of public affairs for the Newtown, Conn.-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents firearms manufacturers.
They disseminate their views on social media, Bazinet said.
The state laws that restricted gun use made exceptions for manufacturers to test their products, but that wasn’t good enough for many consumers, he said.
“When they see a state like Connecticut or New York pass these very tough laws, they often get in touch with the manufacturers and say, ‘We’re really going to think twice about buying one of your products, not because we don’t like your product but because we don’t want our money in any way going to support that state government,’” Bazinet said.
That’s why some companies want to completely up and move, or expand to new states, he said.
The Wyoming push
A handful of entities in Wyoming have made overtures to gun manufacturers.
Magpul is the Centennial State’s largest and most profitable manufacturer of high-capacity ammunition magazines. Its executives threatened to leave Colorado if the state legislature passed a law limiting the number of rounds in a magazine. The Colorado lawmakers were acting in the aftermath of the Aurora movie theater shootings, and proceeded with the law despite the threats.
When the Wyoming Business Council saw the first news reports about Magpul, its staff reached out to Magpul.
By March 21, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill into law. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead talked on the phone with Magpul executives. Rep. Bunky Loucks, R-Casper, became the Wyoming Legislature’s designated contact to the company and began emailing an executive at Magpul.
Magpul still remains in Colorado and its executives have been silent for months about a potential out-of-state move.
South Carolina won PTR Industries, a small manufacturer of modern sporting rifles, which is moving its entire operation and 80 employees from Bristol, Conn. Forty additional jobs will be created in South Carolina. Gov. Nikki Haley attended the ribbon cutting, Bazinet said.
A Texas company won a license to produce high-grade rifles used in marksmanship competitions from Hartford, Conn.-based Colt, he said.
Kahr Arms had been headquartered in New York, but after the Empire State enacted stricter laws, executives decided to move the headquarters to eastern Pennsylvania. Kahr’s manufacturing is in Massachusetts, which is considering tougher laws. The company is asking the state to be aware of the economic implications, Bazinet said.
“When they decided to move their headquarters to eastern Pennsylvania, they did so in an area where if they had to put in a plant, they had plenty of land to do so,” he said.
In May, Fort Collins, Colo.-based HiViz Shooting Systems announced it was moving to Laramie. Six months later, Littleton, Colo.-based Ammo Kan also said it had decided on the southeastern Wyoming city, too.
HiViz makes makes rifle sights, among other firearms components. It anticipates moving all employees to Wyoming and opening shop in July. The company also anticipates hiring locally.
Ammo Kan will manufacture under the Maverick Ammunition label. It will hire 50 people locally and expects to produce 1.8 million rounds a week by the second half of 2014.
More companies Wyo-bound?
Most gun companies operate in relative secrecy. They are privately owned, not traded on any stock market, and do not have to make announcements to shareholders about which communities they are in negotiations with, Bazinet said.
“They can keep their decision-making close to the vest because there are only a few investors or they are in the hands of a very few people,” Bazinet said. “They don’t have that requirement that a publicly traded company has to be transparent.”
So far, most of the companies that have announced decisions to move to Wyoming or elsewhere have been small. Moving larger companies, such as Magpul, will take time, he said.
“It’s not possible to turn manufacturing on a dime,” he said. “These are decisions that roll out usually over years.”
MacKay, the governor's spokesman, noted that Wyoming’s advantages include no corporate or personal income tax, one of the lowest costs of electricity in the country, access to rail and interstate transportation and reasonable, stable regulations.
To attract manufacturers, MacKay said that the state has a sales tax exemption in place now on machinery and on electricity and power used in manufacturing. There are also grants and loans to help a business find a building, he said.
Wyoming has pros and cons for gun manufacturers, Bazinet said.
The state has low taxes, a culture of hunting and laws that are friendly to firearms owners and manufacturers, he said.
Wyoming is also remote: Far away from parts suppliers and markets to sell products, he said.
“It’s a complicated calculus for the management of these companies,” Bazinet said.