The ammunition-making industry in Arkansas is booming, with the state in the running for a $35 million expansion by newcomer Fiocchi of America and new owner Vista Outdoor Inc. reviving the iconic Remington factory in Lonoke.
Executives for both companies said they were attracted to the state because of its workforce, geography in the supply chain, and gun-loving culture. They also appreciated a warm welcome from local and state officials — including incentives.
Fiocchi of America, U.S. subsidiary of the 145-year-old Italian ammunition manufacturer, opened a plant in Pulaski County last year and is already looking to open another in the Southeast, said Jared Smith, general manager of U.S. operations. The company employs about 250 nationwide.
Fiocchi is considering nine possible sites for a new plant, two of them in Arkansas, he said. The new location is expected to create 65-100 jobs, he said.
“One of the things that Fiocchi is doing is we’re in this period of expansion. We’re looking at acquisitions. We’re looking at other vertical integration,” said Smith, a Bryant native who works from the company’s U.S. headquarters in Ozark, Missouri. “And we’re looking throughout the Southeast to lay down our next industrial footprint. We feel like there’s tremendous opportunity in the state of Arkansas.”
He said Fiocchi’s growth is being driven by a shortage of ammunition on retail shelves. Remington’s bankruptcy left “a void in the market” a year ago, and heightened sales are linked to the pandemic, civil unrest and the election of Joe Biden as president. The New York Times reported in May that 2020 was a record sales year thanks to the pandemic and protests, and that sales typically spike in an election year.
“With all those factors at play, that’s not really what’s driving our demand. It’s really about Fiocchi’s ability to bring green solutions,” Smith said.
The company is a leader in environmentally friendly primer technology and is paving the way in sustainable ammunition, he said. Primer is the chemical or device responsible for initiating the propellant combustion that pushes the projectiles out of the gun barrel.
Fiocchi is moving to reduce lead in its plastics and to have a lighter carbon footprint across all production, Smith said.
In doing so, Fiocchi is addressing a market opportunity that other companies are not, he said. California is banning lead-based ammunition in the state, and the U.S. Army is looking to get away from lead, too.
Fiocchi expects to make an announcement about the $35 million project in the first quarter next year. Smith called it a “greenfield” investment, with the company developing a vacant site as opposed to renovating a property as it did before.
Fiocchi acquired the assets of the Grandeur Fasteners plant on 145th Street in Pulaski County in August 2020 and opened its $15 million facility, which makes centerfire pistol cartridges, there in May 2021.
Fiocchi initially expected to employ 86 people at the plant, but today it employs 128, Smith said. The company expects to add another 10-11 employees before year’s end, he said.
The plant had 28 employees when Fiocchi acquired it, and the company kept them all. It also gained access to a cost-effective technology called cold forming, which reduces the footprint required to produce something, Smith said.
“We’re incredibly constrained by space. And we’re incredibly constrained with the real estate market. So this was a technology that we wanted to bring in,” Smith said.
So, he said, Fiocchi took what was one shift on a small production line to four shifts and added production lines as well as other operations.
Smith said the average wage for workers at the plant is more than $20 an hour, and the jobs range from heading operations to working with the equipment and tools used in the manufacturing process.
“One of the beautiful things of going back home and working with the Arkansas workforce is you already feel that there’s this deep connection, and the jobs that you’re bringing, the opportunity that we’re bringing to the state, matters. There’s definitely a personal connection,” Smith said. “It’s really about being able to come back home and bring something back to the state as a former Arkansan.”
The state supported the project financially.
According to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Fiocchi qualified for five years of Create Rebate, an annual cash rebate based on the number of jobs added by a company, and Tax Back, which provides sales tax refunds on building materials, taxable machinery and equipment associated with the project.
‘Full Speed’ Ahead
Fiocchi isn’t the only ammunition maker that has ramped up employment in Arkansas.
The Remington ammo plant in Lonoke, which has 1 million-plus SF under roof on a 1,200-acre property, is making gains.
Its new owner, publicly traded Vista Outdoor Inc. of Anoka, Minnesota, retained the plant’s name and bought most of its assets for $81.4 million a year ago, as Remington was coming out of its second bankruptcy in two years. It did not purchase any firearm-making assets and does not make Remington firearms in Lonoke or anywhere else.
Vista is a global designer, manufacturer and marketer of products in the outdoor sports and recreation markets. Its brands include Bushnell, Blackhawk, Federal, QuietKat and Camp Chef.
Since the ownership change, Vista has more than doubled employment from 400-450 to about 1,100, and is hoping to add another 100 people there soon, CEO Chris Metz said.
“We’re well down the path of bringing that factory up to full speed,” he told Arkansas Business. “In fact, we think, as we go forward here, to the extent that we can continue to see an uninterrupted supply chain, we think that the plant’s going to be running at full speed.”
The company has done a lot of rehiring, training, cleaning up and reorganizing, he said.
Remington’s bankruptcy gave Vista the opportunity to follow through on its long-held desire to buy the company. “We were waiting for years to buy the company because we thought it had that much potential,” Metz said.
He said companies can go into financial disarray because of owners’ “missteps” or other reasons not related to their employees, products or the brand itself.
“So this is one of the most iconic brands in all of America today. It’s a 200-year-old brand that has a loyal following. So that’s why we bought it and we saw it as a hidden gem,” Metz said. “It needed to be polished and needed to be supported and loved, and we knew the employee base and the product and the brand was great. All we’re doing is restoring what once was in Remington. And that’s the reason why we continue to do the things we’re doing, because it’ll resurrect itself into one of the great companies of America.”
Vista Outdoor has qualified for six years of the state’s Create Rebate incentive. And Vista has invested more in Arkansas.
Earlier this month, it announced the purchase of wood pellet-maker Fiber Energy of Mountain View. Fiber Energy’s products go hand-in-hand with another Vista brand, Camp Chef, which makes wood pellet grills, stoves and smokers. Vista is planning a distribution center in Bryant for Camp Chef and other of its brands, e-bike company QuietKat.
“Arkansas, we find to be a really good base of employees for the businesses. We love the government support and the welcoming that we’ve gotten, and we love the proximity of the state,” Metz said. “So the climate is great for us. The geographical location is ideal for some of our brands. We’ve seen a very fertile climate for our types of businesses and our consumers to expand in Arkansas.”
Clint O’Neal, executive vice president of global business for the AEDC, said ammunition manufacturing is an industry “where everything has to make sense, from a supply chain, workforce, real estate, business costs standpoint. But this is an industry where some states and some cities would publicly say, ‘We don’t want you.’”
But Arkansas is accepting, making it a good cultural fit for companies like Remington and Fiocchi, and those companies are aware of that, he said.
The state is “happy to put the Arkansas workforce up against any other state’s and have companies evaluate for themselves and ask around,” O’Neal said. “I think that they’ll find that the workforce in Arkansas can get the job done better than anywhere else. So I think that that’s our biggest selling point.”