Arms companies: A growth sector
July 15, 2013
Nevada's reputation as a pro-gun state — and California's hardline stance against assault weapons — is attracting new weapons and ammunition manufacturers to the state.
Perhaps the largest weapons maker in northern Nevada, U.S. Ordnance, left the Sacramento Valley foothills two decades ago due to difficult state regulations for weapons manufacturing, its president says. Recent legislation passed in California also helped propel several smaller weapons firms, Sword International and Franklin Armory, to head east from their northern California homes to set up shop in northern Nevada.
They join companies such as Xtreme Bullets of Mound House, Firestone Precision Ammunition of Carson City, Titan Ammunition and Arms of Sparks, Battle Born Munitions and several companies that are eyeing possible relocation to the area. Nevada provides a host of business benefits for weapons and ammunition makers, says Mike Kazmierski, chief executive officer of Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.
But perhaps the biggest benefit to this small but growing manufacturing cluster is Nevada's firm stance on Second Amendment gun rights. It's part of EDAWN's pitch to sell companies considering relocating to the region that Nevada is a great location for weapons makers.
"We talk about our pro-business and weapon-friendly environment," Kazmierski says. "There are not going to be a bunch of protestors at their front door trying to shut them down.
"California has added additional taxes on weapons and ammunition, and they continue to constrain a person's ability to use firearms," he adds. "We are very friendly to that, and it's a natural attraction tool we use for companies that not only are manufacturing weapons but also are training people in their use."
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California in late May approved seven new gun bills that outlaw detachable and large-capacity magazines, which often are used in high-powered assault rifles such as those made by U.S. Ordnance and Sword International. Curtis Debord, chief executive officer of U.S. Ordnance, says the Golden State simply makes it too expensive and restrictive for weapons makers to continue doing business in California. Northern Nevada was a natural fit, Debord says, because he still could remain close to family living in the Auburn area.
"The (companies) that really miss the California greenery move to Minden or Gardnerville, but if they need a bigger employee base they move to the Carson-Reno area," Debord says. "Storey County is the ultimate in business friendly. They want you here and want you to grow your company. Instead of impeding growth and throwing restrictions in your way, they are trying to help your business grow."
U.S. Ordnance bought a parcel in Tahoe Reno Industrial Center in 2006, and last year expanded its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility to 90,000 square feet to accommodate manufacture of the M240 7.62 millimeter medium machine gun. The weapon is sold to the U.S. military and foreign governments around the globe.
Sword International's Jeremy Elrod and Franklin Armory's Jay Jacobson both decided to start up operations in northern Nevada due to the threat of even stiffer regulations on weapons and weapons makers in California. Sword relocated from El Dorado Hills, while Franklin opened a second location in Minden.
Elrod says the three-year old company formed by ex U.S. Army Rangers struggled from the outset after launching in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and Nevada's welcoming attitude toward weapons manufacturing was a refreshing change. Storey County officials helped fast-track the necessary permitting required for their operations, Elrod says, and even the local branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms worked much faster.
"Everyone here was really welcoming and gracious and excited to have us out here, whereas in California that wasn't always the case. We would wait several weeks, sometimes a month or longer, for paperwork that we needed. The California Department of Justice is kind of bizarre. It's very difficult, and they set you up for failure. Everyone here seems interested in our success and think what we do here is legal and ethical."
That last is perhaps the state's greatest selling point. Nevada's roots in the Wild West still ring true in the hearts of many native citizens — and its lawmakers. Weapons manufacturers won't clash with state or regional governments, which is crucial to those companies' long-term planning, says EDAWN's Kazmierski.
"People look at Nevada as being on track to remain pro-gun, and when companies are making decisions that may be multi-year decisions, they have to go to a place that will be supportive of those freedoms," Kazmierski says.
Jacobson studied locations in Oregon and Arizona before choosing northern Nevada. The Silver State won out, he says, because of its proximity to Franklin Armory's headquarters in Morgan Hill, its strong presence in manufacturing and a workforce populated with veterans who understand firearms.
Cost per square foot for commercial real estate also was much lower than in northern California, Jacobson adds. Franklin also is working on getting tax and workforce hiring incentives for its relocation efforts.
The region's wide-open spaces also can work in favor of gun makers. U.S. Ordnance built a firing range a few miles from its headquarters at TRIC and shares the facility with the Storey County Sheriff's Department. Debord also can test weapons at range facilities set up at his home atop a bluff near the Mustang exit off Interstate 80.
"That is why people like Nevada," he says. "We have always been a different place, and we have had pretty good luck keeping gun laws at bay — there already are plenty of those in place."