PTR Industries, the gunmaker that made national headlines by moving from Connecticut to Aynor in 2013, risks losing its local headquarters because the company owes Horry County more than $73,000 in overdue rent, according to public records.
However, some Horry County Councilmen are simply pleased to have the once-vacant building occupied with jobs for area residents, and are willing to work with the gun manufacturer.
County officials sent a default notice to PTR on June 10 stating that the company had 30 days to pay its rent or the county would retake the building the company leases in the Cool Springs Business Park.
“We’ve come to a point in time where we’ve actually put them on notice that we’re looking at exercising our rights under the lease agreement to recover those arrearages,” said Arrigo Carotti, county attorney.
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The letter states that county officials have tried to work out a payment plan with the company but haven’t received any payments since March 23. Horry leaders remain open to negotiating a repayment plan, but the notice stresses that the company must address the matter quickly.
“So it’s come to a point in time where we need some definitive action taken on their part,” Carotti said, adding PTR has responded to the county’s letter, but would not get into detail about the letter because it deals with contractual matters. “The county is not at the point of saying we’re going to evict you and that’s it. If the county could work something out with PTR, that would probably be our preference.”
Josh Fiorini, chief executive officer for PTR, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
PTR, which manufactures military-style rifles, abandoned the Nutmeg State when lawmakers there enacted new gun policies. Connecticut leaders passed that legislation in response to the Sandy Hook school massacre in December 2012. The company’s move generated national attention and Gov. Nikki Haley was on hand to welcome PTR to Aynor. It prompted Horry County to offer incentive money for the company if it met employment goals. The goals have not been met and the incentive money has not been issued, said Mark Lazarus, Horry County Council chairman.
A sharp decline in orders for PTR rifles forced the company to trim its workforce last summer.
This is the second time the county was prompted to reach out to PTR for late rent. County officials sent PTR a notice Jan. 30 informing the company that it was four months behind on rent. Including late charges, the bill totaled nearly $52,000.
When PTR moved to Horry County, the company promised to create 145 jobs over three years. But as the industry evolved, gun distributors were left with warehouses full of guns they needed to move. That meant fewer orders from manufacturers like PTR.
The company’s struggles worsened in April 2014, which saw the lowest revenues since Fiorini’s family acquired the business in 2009.
Lazarus said the county has been working with PTR through the process of trying to catch up on rent this time around.
“We have concerns,” Lazarus said. “The gun industry, as a whole, has gone through some tough times. No question about it. From their high days, back when PTR moved here, gun sales have really diminished tremendously.”
PTR’s strategy, Lazarus said, was to find some niche markets to sell to and they found them. Eight employees who were laid off in the past were brought back to the company and remain there.
Horry County Councilman Gary Loftus, who is also a member of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., said having a tenant in the business park is something positive he sees above the late rent.
“I’m concerned for PTR, regardless of what happens with the county, one way or the other,” Loftus said. “I don’t like to see things fail, especially when they have several Horry County people working for them.”
“Unless we have a tenant ready to move in... we’re getting something out of that building, and something is better than zero, which we got how many years before that? As far as the county is concerned, I don’t think it’s that much of a concern for us other than they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do. If we get 10 grand a month out of it, what did we get two years ago?”
“This whole thing is about a building that was sitting there vacant for about 12 plus years, and this is about creating jobs that are at a wage level that are higher than average, which is what is taking place there,” Lazarus said. “At the same time, they’ve got to pay their bills.”
Along with its county bills, PTR has struggled to pay some of its vendors, according to court records. Judgments and lawsuits state that the company owes more than $80,000 to four businesses.
Loftus said someone should have known about any outstanding debt the company had before moving here.
“One would think the [Economic Development Corp.]” would know, Loftus said.
Lazarus said the vetting process is not to blame because a lot of the debt came after PTR arrived.
“Our vetting process was very strong,” Lazarus said. “We did a background check on them. I reviewed their personal financials and corporate financials. They have some assets up in Connecticut. They didn’t have any liens against them or bad debt at the time. All this has happened since they got here. Our vetting process was like any other company that we look at. We do background checks and we do financial records checks and that’s what we did with them.
“Everything was good. When they moved here, everything was solid. They were rocking and rolling, and unfortunately, the gun industry as a whole went down tremendously... The bottom line is they still have the employees that they started with, and they still have contracts and they’re making payroll.”
Lazarus said worse case scenario -- if PTR had to leave the area -- the county would experience some unemployment, but would be more prepared for a new tenant to move in.
“If PTR was to leave, it’s still our building,” Lazarus said. “It’s more marketable today than it was when PTR first got here because of what has been put into it... Hopefully we’ll see better days. We just don’t know yet... As our fudiciary responsibility to the citizens of Horry County, we need to make sure we’re getting our rent, too. That’s why they’ve been put on notice.”