The Lonoke Remington ammunition plant’s recent past has been turbulent, but its future looks bright under new owner Vista Outdoor Inc., local and state officials told Arkansas Business.
One of those officials was state Rep. Roger Lynch, R-Lonoke, who began working at the plant in 1970 at age 19 and retired from there at 62.
He recalls how, about four years ago, then-owner private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management stopped paying the bills and how the plant couldn’t operate unless vendors were paid in cash for materials. The workforce also slipped to a low of 400, from 1,200, he said.
“That was investment bankers that came in and kind of sucked the marrow out of the bone, if you will,” said Matt Boyles, president of the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce board. Both of his parents retired from Remington. “But that’s what they do. … They try to let go of as many of the older employees as they can to save costs. If they do replace them, they replace them with a younger person where they can pay them less money. That’s what they did. They come in and they suck as much money out of it as they could and they file bankruptcy and do layoffs.”
Lynch said management incentivized long-serving employees to retire around 2013-14. “A lot of us left the company at that time, during those two or three years,” he said.
The state of Arkansas is now an unsecured creditor in the Remington bankruptcy, which hasn’t ended yet. Clint O’Neal, executive vice president of global business for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said the AEDC entered into a $2.5 million Quick Action Closing Fund agreement with Remington in 2016. The agreement was revised in 2018.
He said the company was obligated to ramp up to and maintain 1,200 jobs but only partially met that goal and technically owes around $1 million to the state. “We’re not incredibly hopeful that we’re going to see any of that money back, but we’re still following the legal proceedings,” O’Neal said.
New owner Vista has qualified for a state incentive: five years of Create Rebate, an annual cash rebate based on the number of jobs added by a company at the Lonoke plant. But this is separate from the previous Remington agreement, he said.
Boyles said that while the community was concerned about lost jobs and lost retirement benefits, it was not concerned about the plant shuttering altogether. That’s because the community knew “the business model as a whole was still solid,” he said. “We knew that the demand in the market was there.”
The plant just needed an owner who was in it for the long haul, Boyles said. He believes Vista is that owner.
Boyles said Remington had supported the chamber, baseball team and more in the community in the past. He said Vista is already resuming that kind of support.
Vista CEO Chris Metz said the company has reopened Remington’s trap shooting facility to the public, installed a clay sports shooting facility with 13 stations and plans to host fundraising and youth sports shooting events.
Lynch also expressed confidence in Vista. He said it is “in the business to be in the business. And I just, everybody I’ve talked to at that plant about what’s happening, they feel secure in their job” and that the new owner is investing in the plant’s future.
$1.99 an Hour
When Lynch began working for Remington, his job paid $1.99 per hour — a pretty good wage in 1970. The federal minimum was $1.60.
He intended to spend one summer there, then go back to school. Instead, Lynch said, he attended night school, eventually earning his master’s degree, while working for Remington.
At age 22, Lynch said, he became the youngest shift supervisor there. He had 30 women working for him in the packaging area.
He went on to manage other areas of the operation and ended up serving as a kind of “trouble shooter” for the entire plant. That much was obvious when he greeted just about everyone still working there during a recent tour of the plant.
After 43 years at Remington, Lynch retired.
Until 1993, the plant was owned by DuPont, which he said made a lot of money from the business and was a good owner.
The next owner was RACI Acquisitions, and its plan was to make money from taking the business public. But reverberations from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting derailed that plan. The gunman used a Remington firearm, and the company got tied up in lawsuits filed by the victims’ families.
Lynch said RACI decided to get out of the business and sold it to Bruckmann Rosser Sherrill & Co. LLC. He said that the firm didn’t like the business and never even put it on its website, selling the plant after just a couple of years, to Cerberus in 2007.