Courtships of Remington Arms may not be too serious

Feb 6, 2013

When New York state passed "the toughest gun control laws in the nation" on Jan. 15, concern arose in a small upstate New York town built around a gun manufacturing company.

That anxiety has only heightened in the past two weeks as several states have made overtures to the owner of Remington Arms to encourage the company to leave Ilion.

In his letter, South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan, a Republican, wrote "the enemies of freedom are waging an all-out assault on the Second Amendment to the Constitution." He goes on to say his state has a better climate for both manufacturing and gun rights.

"I think any elected official sending a communication to the company that finds its way into the public domain right now is just a (public relations) stunt," says Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, a nonprofit organization that tracks government subsidies and promotes accountability in economic development.

LeRoy says these lawmakers are simply seizing on an opportunity to look tough on jobs. And just because lawmakers have reached out to Remington, it doesn’t mean talks are happening or incentive packages are being pieced together.

The letter sent from Michigan legislators directed company officials to contact its economic development agency. When reached, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation was unaware the letter had even been sent.

"Cause for concern"

That doesn't mean all these suitors haven't got the people in the tight-knit Mohawk Valley community of Ilion worried.

"Certainly when you have congressmen from other states reaching out to companies, I think that, at a minimum, is a cause for concern; a cause for anxiety," says Mark Feane, the head of the Herkimer County Industrial Development Agency, an economic development body for the county that’s been the home of Remington Arms for nearly 200 years.

"With us having the toughest gun laws and their being recruited by other states, it would be foolish not to be concerned with that and we certainly are," Feane says.

He and other local economic development officials and politicians have vowed to stand up to fight and keep Remington in Ilion. That includes Republican Rep. Richard Hanna, of Barneveld, who said in a statement "I look forward to working with New York state leaders to see that Remington stays here for generations to come."

Feane says he hasn't had any luck getting in touch with the Freedom Group.

This isn’t the first time other states have tried to entice Remington out of New York. However in his 15 years working with the union that represents Remington workers, Frank ‘Rusty’ Brown says this is the most serious the outside interest has been.

"This has become a real threat to our jobs," he says.

Remington employs more than 1,200 people in Ilion. The factory produces several lines of guns, including the Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle, now banned from being sold in New York under the new laws, known as the NY SAFE Act.

"Evaluating its options"

Remington will still be allowed to make assault rifles and export them to other states as well as sell them through military and law enforcement contracts.

Freedom Group has been silent on its future. The company has not returned several requests for comment. It told the local Utica Observer-Dispatch it’s “carefully evaluating its options.”

Over the past five years, the state’s Empire State Development Corporation has given Freedom Group $5.5 million to consolidate operations from Connecticut and Massachusetts in Ilion. That allowed the plant to nearly double its workforce.

But New York wouldn’t be able to use the generosity of those grants as leverage to keep Remington in the state if ownership gets serious about leaving, according to an Empire State Development official, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The official says job requirements tied to the grants, which were mostly given out from 2009-2011, have been fulfilled. The official also noted the money was given out during previous administrations, hinting Gov. Andrew Cuomo may have a different attitude toward gun subsidies.

Greg LeRoy, of Good Jobs First, says those generous grants are all the more reason Remington should stay right where it is.