HORRY COUNTY, SC — The location near two technical colleges and an economic incentive package played a part in Sandusky, Ohio-based Ithaca Gun Co. selecting Horry County as the place to expand its gun manufacturing operation in the southeast.
Ithaca Gun Co. signed a memorandum of understanding with Horry County that the company is projected to bring 120 manufacturing jobs to the area when fully operational.
This is the second gun manufacturer to announce plans to move to the Cool Springs Business Park near Aynor, which has even sparked talks of a public shooting range there through a grant program with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. With a third gun manufacturer, Connecticut-based Stag Arms, still pondering a move to Horry County and an impending gun and ammunition trade show in January, the county could be on the cusp of an economic boon in the gun manufacturing industry.
Brad Lofton, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., said the gun manufacturing industry – and supporting industries like ammunition manufacturers and more – is just starting to grow in Horry County mostly because Connecticut passed a restrictive gun law that is causing the angst among its firearms manufacturers.
“We’re talking to about two or three more formally and that’s not uncommon,” Lofton said. “Every economic development group in the country right now is trying to reach out to gun manufacturers because they all seem to be leaving the northeast. We’ve just been fortunate enough to win them.”
Lofton said construction of the Ithaca plant should begin within the next 60 days and should take up to seven months to build, and applications for jobs will not be taken until closer to the time of opening.
Mike Farrell, spokesman for Ithaca, could not be reached Thursday.
Before construction and hiring can begin, the county and Ithaca need to hammer out details of the grant, the deed transfer and the fee in lieu of taxes agreement. He said those details will be released at the County Council’s Nov. 12 meeting.
MBREDC will offer a performance grant 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. The construction of Ithaca Gun Company’s $6.7 million facility in the business park will bring a yet undetermined number of construction jobs and a fuel to the local economy in the coming months.
Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, who was at the front end of the Ithaca deal with Lofton and State Reps. Alan Clemmons and Mike Ryhal, said the 20,000 square-foot facility will be divided in half – one side for gun manufacturing and the other side for glass recycling, which is the main business for a principle owner of Ithaca Gun Co., Dave Dlubak. Dlubak owns Dlubak Glass, which has glass and e-waste recycling companies in six states. He toured the Horry County Solid Waste recycling center and committed to opening a branch for his glass recycling business in the business park as well.
Lazarus said talks began to bring Ithaca Gun Co. and Dlubak Glass when a relative of Dlubak, who lives in Murrells Inlet, contacted a friend who is an employee of a local television station about Dlubak’s desire to expand to the southeast. The television employee contacted Lazarus and he, Ryhal and Lofton toured the Ohio facility. Within a couple of weeks, the deal was signed.
Lazarus does not anticipate any problems with the incentive package Ithaca Gun is working to strike with the county.
“I don’t see any because it all qualifies with the number of jobs,” he said.
The county entered a similar agreement with PTR Industries, another gun manufacturer that announced earlier this year it would move to Horry County. The county agreed to lease PTR a 58,000-square-foot spec building it 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.
Once the Ithaca details are finalized after three readings of the council, Lofton said work begins to educate the local workforce to prepare for not only the 120 jobs Ithaca is projected to bring, but the 145 jobs PTR Industries said it would bring.
“I don’t think you’re going to find that our labor force is trained specifically today for gun manufacturing,” Lofton said. “What you are going to find here is people who have moved here from all over the country who have experience running a CNC machine and others. So you’ll have a [Metropolitan Statistical Area] population of about 400,000 people, you’ll have a lot of people who have machine skills who would love to work for this company. Who wouldn’t want to work for one of the premier shotgun manufacturers in the country?”
Lofton said the proximity of the Cool Springs Business Park near Aynor – equidistant from the technical colleges in Florence and Conway – played a major role in the company coming to Horry County.
“If it weren’t for the [Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology at Florence-Darlington Technical College], we would not have won this project,” Lofton said. “They have, what we think, is the most premier machine operations program in the southeast. The company looks forward to what they’re doing in CNC training and 3-D animation and 3-D printing.. They made it perfectly clear to us that that’s one of the key reasons they’re locating here.”
Jack Roach, director of the institute, said Ithaca officials took two tours through its 177,000-square-foot building in Florence to see how the six-year-old institute could benefit the company.
“There are two things that they really took interest in when visiting,” Roach said. “The first thing is they liked our machine training program for machinists, which teaches people how to operate high-end machine equipment and production. They also liked our 3-D printing capabilities, particularly the ability to print on metal as opposed to plastic.”
Roach did not know why the company was interested in the college’s 3-D printing, which it provides for a fee.
Lofton also said Horry-Georgetown Technical College President Neyle Wilson played a role in this project too, adding Wilson was key in the development of a welding program this semester and future plans to start a machine training center.
“He’s already got about 70 people learning how to weld now, which is amazing,” Lofton said.
The county is still in talks with Stag Arms, a Connecticut gun manufacturer who has shown interest in Horry County and Texas if it decides to move. That could mean a portion of the company’s 308 jobs.
Lofton said he spoke with Stag Arms’ owner Mark Malkowski Thursday who congratulated Horry County on nabbing Ithaca and said his company has yet to make a decision on whether it was moving or where it would move to.
A message to Malkowski was not returned Thursday.
Lofton said this is the eighth major jobs announcement since January 2012, which has led to the creation, or projected creation, of 774 jobs. He said the momentum of luring gun manufacturers to the area doesn’t show signs of slowing as he plans to attend the SHOT Show – the shooting, hunting and outdoor trade show and conference for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting accessories industry – in Las Vegas in January. He said the relationships developed between MBREDC, Horry County officials and now its two planned gun manufacturers should help open some doors.
“The SHOT Show will be a target-rich environment for us as far as the potential manufacturers that support the gun industry, and we will want to talk to them about locating and expanding here,” Lofton said. “You’d have to spend $100,000 to have a consultant do the very same thing that these companies, now that they’re locating here, are going to do for us for free.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.