Horry County on right track to grow gun industry, might not be as fast

jrodriguez@thesunnews.comOctober 19, 2013 

With eyes on aerospace and aviation industry growth, marine manufacturing and call centers as recent as earlier this year, Brad Lofton, the area’s go-to man for economic development, didn’t see adding two gun manufacturers to Horry County’s list of large employers.

“To be quite honest, we never had gun manufacturing as an established target,” said the CEO and president of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. “We’ve improvised for the most part because of the success we’ve had in locating PTR Industries with their corporate headquarters. That has opened additional doors for us and now that Ithaca [Gun Co.] has announced, we’ve really picked up a lot of momentum in that particular sector. So we’re going to continue to push.”

Horry County has had a good year in job growth after PTR Industries announced it plans to move its entire operation here and Ithaca Gun Co. plans to open a southeastern branch, both in the Cool Springs Business Park near Aynor. And area leaders think it’s not too far-fetched to believe Horry County could very well be a major player in the gun manufacturing industry as one industry expert says major moves have been occurring and are on the horizon.

“I don’t think it’s far-fetched at all,” said Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus of Horry County’s role in the gun manufacturing industry growing. “The great thing is we have a council now that’s focused on economic development and we’re all working together. They see the end game.”

Lazarus also pointed to the lines of communication being open between the County Council, staff and the MBREDC, which allowed two major deals like these to come to fruition so quickly. And that’s important, said Mike Bazinet, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, or NSSF. PTR announced in June it would move here and create 145 jobs by 2016, followed by Ithaca last week saying it would create 120 jobs here. There is a third company, Stag Arms, considering moving part of its more than 300 employees to either Horry County or Texas.

Stricter laws in Connecticut and surrounding states, which for decades has been called “Gun Valley,” prompted by the fatal Sandy Hook Elementary shooting last December has sent some manufacturers looking to do business elsewhere. Considering more than 37 percent of rifles and 80 percent of revolvers in 2011 were made in Gun Valley, according to NSSF, gun manufacturing could mean big business if South Carolina and Horry County position themselves right.

Bazinet said gun manufacturers have looked at states and their gun laws, economic climate and educated workforce before taking it a step further to the local level. States like New York, Connecticut and Colorado have seen gun manufacturers leave, while states like Texas, South Carolina, Idaho and South Dakota have welcomed businesses in the gun manufacturing and ammunition industries with open arms.

South Carolina’s efforts to welcome gun companies include third-party-liability tort reform, which shields gun manufacturers from liability for a weapon used in a crime, said Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach) who added he played a part in introducing Dave Dlubak, primary principle of Ithaca Gun Co. to Lofton.

Also, the state had been known in years past for its gun tax-free holiday. Clemmons said add lower taxes to the enticement and the state’s “business-friendly right-to-work laws,” and you have the makings of an attractive economic climate for gun manufacturers.

“We passed a concurrent resolution this year in the General Assembly, without an objection, making it clear that our statewide legislative mindset is one of welcome to all gun manufacturers considering relocation of their manufacturing facilities and headquarters,” he said in an email when questioned by The Sun News. “The reason for the resolution was to show to business leaders in the firearm manufacturing industry whose businesses are suffering from the uncertainty of continuity in many states that have shown, legislatively, disdain for their industry and the second amendment. That and some personal attention, together with a ready and willing workforce, world class employee training programs tailored to their needs and a high quality of life for employees and business leaders who relocate here are the chief factors that have resulted in our first two gun manufacturer victories.”

Clemmons said the area’s ability to secure Ithaca’s expansion and PTR Industries’ complete move puts Horry County on the list of all the economic developers throughout the country.

“As long as our state and local leaders continue to respect the Second Amendment and the gun manufacturing industry, remaining focused on attracting other gun manufacturers to our area, we will continue to see success in the growing and diversification of our job markets into this dynamic industry,” Clemmons said.

Bazinet said the key becomes local leaders.

“In the case of several manufacturers, they have said if [they] need to expand operations or to add a line, we are going to seriously consider doing that in another state,” Bazinet said. “What they then look at is what can they offer in terms of economic incentives such as tax incentives or provisions for infrastructure.”

As was the case for both PTR Industries and, if full council approves it, Ithaca Gun Co. The county entered an agreement with PTR Industries to lease the company a 58,000-square-foot spec building the county erected in 2009, and the company agreed to put nearly $1.9 million into remodeling the building. As long as PTR maintains a certain number of employees, it will own the building at the end of the lease term. MBREDC will offer a performance grant to Ithaca and Horry County Council will consider deeding for free up to 10 acres in the Cool Springs Business Park and a fee in lieu of tax agreement for up to 20 years.

Factors like quality of life, cost of living, quality of workforce, cost of interrupting service and moving a company’s employee base play a role in making a major decision like moving a company, Bazinet said.

Lofton said the state helps seal the deal as well.

“We’re a pro-Second Amendment state, we’re a pro-business state, we’re a low cost of doing business state and we’re a low union state,” he said. “A lot of those reasons have converged and made it pretty compelling for a lot of these gun manufacturers to give us a shot.”

And with two companies biting the economic incentives bait already and about 175 acres left in the Cool Springs Business Park, Lofton is taking off to Las Vegas in January for the SHOT Show – the shooting, hunting and outdoor trade show and conference for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting accessories industry.

“We can go there and tell them, ‘We’ve been able to locate Ithaca and we’ve been able to locate PTR and let me tell you why we’ve been successful in doing that,’” Lofton said. “Just the fact that we’ve been able to locate those two have given us instant credibility and history.”

Bazinet said having economic officials and elected officials at the show, which is sponsored by the foundation he works for, is not a new thing.

“That won’t be the first time,” he said. “Other states have sent individuals to the SHOT Show because it is a unique opportunity to see all these manufacturers at one time in one place.”

As for Horry County’s role in the future of gun manufacturing, that remains to be seen, but Bazinet warns the speed at which PTR and Ithaca happened is rare.

“I think economic development officials will tell you this is a process that takes many years because decisions are so serious to make,” Bazinet said.

Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.

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