Texas Governor Rick Perry might not have been able to name three federal agencies he’d close, but he has his sights attracting on at least that many Connecticut gun manufacturers and he used the NRA convention in Houston over the last four days to make his best pitch.
Along with his famous charm, Perry had 70,000 gun enthusiasts on hand to help make the case for firearms companies feeling unloved back home. One firm, PTR Industries of Bristol, already said it will exit Connecticut and it’s starting to look like others will head South or West.
The Republican governor and the Texas lieutenant governor both met with Mark Malkowski, owner of Stag Arms of New Britain, who was in Houston along with six other company managers and employees from Thursday through Sunday.
“There are some intense meetings going on between the owner of Stag Arms and Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas at the NRA show in Houston,” Stag posted on its Facebook page along with a picture of Perry and Malkowski.
As he traveled back home Sunday, Malkowski, 35, said he also briefly toured a couple of possible locations. He said he’s not yet ready to scout real estate — in fact, he hasn’t even decided whether to leave Connecticut, where he employs 200 people and his father also owns a machining firm in New Britain.
But the Lone Star welcome placed that pro-gun-rights state right at or near the top of the list he’d consider.
“It was refreshing,” Malkowski said. “The approach, the climate out there is very friendly — industry friendly and business friendly. It doesn’t even compare, their governor vs. ours when it comes to our industry.”
He added, “They’ve had an increase in arts and culture, we spoke about that, too.”
Now that’s hitting hard, at one of Connecticut’s competitive advantages. But momentous events bring sweeping changes, and we may be witnessing a deep erosion of the region’s 200-year history as the nation’s gunmaking capital.
Executives from PTR, O.F. Mossberg and Sons, of North Haven, and the Colt companies were also at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting and convention. It was unclear whether any had also met with Perry, but Texas has been among the most aggressive states in holding out carrots for disenchanted gunmakers. All of them make rifles that are now banned for sale in Connecticut — and in Stag’s case, its entire product line is now illegal to buy in its home state.
Perry and other Texas officials have also reached out to Ammunition Storage Components, which makes bullet magazines in New Britain. And on April 16, Perry Tweeted PTR Industries, a Bristol maker of European-style semiautomatic, military-style rifles, after PTR said it is definitely leaving Connecticut. “Hey PTR…Texas is still wide open for business!! Come on down!”
Breckenridge, Texas, has already attracted an Oregon company that makes Colt Competition rifles as a licensee of Colt’s – and the Breckenridge mayor said he wants more firms to look at his industrial park.
Malkowski said Perry’s office contacted him last week and requested a 20-minute meeting.
Stag Arms has had a presence at the NRA convention for seven years, and would have gone this time with its own booth, regardless of the flap over Connecticut’s new gun control law. It’s an important event for learning what customers want, said Malkowski, who added that Stag now has an 8-month backlog of orders.
This year, Stag was a bit of a celebrity company and Malkowski had a lot of back-slapping from visitors to the booth, many of them Texans.
“They were very welcoming and very encouraging to us to consider their state and it wasn’t politicians and economic development officials…it was regular people,” Malkowski said, “That felt really good.”
He added, “A lot of people from Connecticut were saying ‘We appreciate what you’ve done, we’d love to have you stay and keep doing it, and keep jobs in Connecticut.”
A decision to leave by Stag and Ammunition Storage Components could hit especially hard, since the two company owners are informally working together, and could relocate to the same place as a way of maintaining a cluster of firearms companies. Jonathan Scalise, the ASC owner and a friend of Malkowski’s, also owns a metal finishing business in New Britain, and the three companies together have more than 300 employees – most of them local residents.
Scalise said he’s compiling spreadsheets with details on every option from many states, including real estate costs, energy prices, taxes, labor rates and of course, state and local incentives. “We have 17 different offers now,” Scalise said recently. “We’re going back and forth with the economic development committees or departments of commerce.”
The CEO of Colt’s Manufacturing Co. and other executives at the historic West Hartford company have said the company must consider options. Even though a massive move by Colt Defense and Colt’s Manufacturing is considered unlikely, the two companies, which operate under agreements with each other, could expand elsewhere as the companies grow.
Even without the Connecticut gun control law, sparked by the Dec. 14 tragedy in Newtown, states would battle fiercely for Connecticut factory work, just as Connecticut battles for advanced manufacturing, biotech, media firms and financial services. On Thursday, MyrtleBeachOnline.com reported that PTR has Horry County, South Carolina on a list of six finalists for its relocation — in a story that said the company, with 50 employees in Bristol, will have 140 workers.
The Connecticut law allows manufacturing to continue as it has, but the manufacturers are concerned that if they remain in Connecticut, customers will boycott their products because of the state’s retail sales ban on military-style firearms. They are also not happy about comments Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has made since he signed the law on April 4, especially a CNN interview with Candy Crowley in which he said, “What this is about is the ability of the gun industry to sell as many guns to as many people as possible, even if they’re deranged, even if they’re mentally ill, even if they have a criminal record. They don’t care.”
I reported on April 12 that Stag was working on modified versions of the AR-15 rifle that could get around the ban. Malkowski said Sunday that the company would submit designs to the state police firearms unit for approval as soon as this week. We declined to give details, but one clear option would be an AR-15-style rifle that shoots smaller-caliber, rimfire .22 rounds, which are still legal under the Connecticut law.
But for the last several days at least, Texas was the place to be for gun manufacturers. David Dewhurst, the Texas lieutenant governor, told Malkowski that 1,200 people a day move to Texas, by way of making the point that the state has a robust labor pool.
“They’re not really worried about losing their gun rights in Texas. It’s a different way of life,” Malkowski said.
And they don’t usually worry about winter weather, especially in May, but it snowed in Amarillo Friday, Malkowski noted. Just another Connecticut feature that the Lone Star state might claim as its own.