NEWPORT — The decision by gun manufacturer Sturm, Ruger & Co. to open a third manufacturing plant at a 220,000-square-foot facility in North Carolina came as no surprise to state economic development officials, who said they had worked closely with company management in the hope of convincing them to expand in New Hampshire.
Ruger currently employs about 1,200 at its foundry in Newport and another 900 in Prescott, Ariz. With firearm sales going through the roof over fears of gun control, the company in May announced plans to expand and create 500 to 700 new jobs at a third factory.
Company President Michael O. Fifer told shareholders at their annual meeting in May that the $30 million expansion would not be in New England. “We’re growing by leaps and bounds in Arizona and New Hampshire,” he said at the time, “and we’re not taking any jobs out of those places. Those plants are fully employed, and we expect to continue adding jobs incrementally.”
North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas were cited as possible locations after Fifer’s announcement. The speculation was put to rest on Monday, when the company announced the pending purchase of a facility in Mayodan, N.C., with a targeted closing date in August.
“Everyone has been offering us incentives,” said Kevin Reed, general counsel and vice president for Sturm Ruger. “So incentives are being offered (in North Carolina), but there are still many moving parts.”
Reed said negotiations in Mayodan are not complete, but the company is confident the deal can be closed.
“We had a number of criteria for expansion, and we did not find anything in New Hampshire that we thought was suitable,” Reed said.
The company had a long list of factors, including a preference for a right-to-work state, where workers cannot be required to pay union dues if they choose not to join one. “Right-to-work state was one of our criteria,” Reed said.
That doesn’t mean the company has soured on New Hampshire, which meets another key criteria because it is considered Second Amendment-friendly.
“We feel very strongly about our commitment to our highly valued employees in New Hampshire, and plan to continue to operate that facility as it has been,” Reed said. “As you might imagine, some employees are concerned about what this might portend, but we are very committed to New Hampshire. This is an expansion. We’ve been in a hiring mode for quite some time.”
Space to expand
Company officials said they did not have the space to expand in New Hampshire and were already having difficulty filling existing openings.
Christopher Way, interim director of the state Division of Economic Development, said he and others on his staff worked closely with Ruger and could have found an appropriate location in the Granite State.
“Apart from the building, there are a lot of other specifications that were important to them, like proximity to clients, workers, airports and a whole host of issues that decide whether someone wants to locate in a particular area or not. In terms of buildings, they could have been accommodated,” he said.Way said New Hampshire cannot compete with bigger states when it comes to incentives like buildings and tax breaks, and doesn’t even try. The incentives offered in North Carolina have not been disclosed, “but I suspect they are substantial,” Way said.
Way said the state would continue to work with the company on workforce training in the Newport area. “We have a tax structure and a government that is very responsive and very business-friendly, and then there’s the quality of life,” he said. “Oftentimes, you will hear about the financial incentives in other states. That’s just a different currency than what we use. Our currency in this state is that quality of life and a business environment where we leave you alone until you need us to intervene or assist.”
Other arms manufacturers have expressed interest in the state as the industry goes through a period of expansion, Way said: “In terms of firearms manufacturers, we have had a lot of interest in New Hampshire over the past several months, and we are working with several different entities in recruitment.”
SIG Sauer, which has manufacturing and training facilities in Exeter, announced last year that it would expand to the Pease Tradeport, in the former Celestica building, which has about 200,000 square feet. The company has been upgrading the site at a cost of about $7 million, according to state economic development officials, who said operations would continue at Exeter even after the Pease building opens.