Ammunition maker Fiocchi of America on Tuesday announced that it's expanding operations in Little Rock, investing $41.5 million in a new lead-free primer manufacturing facility at the Little Rock Port.
Fiocchi, the U.S. subsidiary of the 146-year-old Italian ammo manufacturer, said the project will create about 120 jobs. The average hourly wages for those positions will start at $20-$25 per hour.
Earlier Tuesday, the Little Rock Port Authority Board approved a $2.6 million deal to sell a 280-acre site for the operation to a limited liability company affiliated with Fiocchi. The sale is scheduled to go before the Little Rock City Board for final approval Tuesday evening.
Construction at the 280-acre site is scheduled to start next year, with the first phase of operations expected to begin in 2025.
Fiocchi executives told Arkansas Business that the plant will help the company capitalize on growing global demand for lead-free primer across commercial, defense and sporting markets. Primer is the chemical or device that sets off the propellent in a round.
The market for "green" primer is expanding as leaded ammunition faces increasing restrictions in the U.S. and abroad. The Biden administration is banning hunters from using leaded ammunition at multiple National Wildlife Refuges after years of research showing it causes secondary poisoning in wildlife, which contaminates food chains and harms biodiversity. Hunting groups and environmental organizations alike believe the rule, which takes effect in 2026, could eventually apply to other public lands.
Overseas, total bans have been approved or are under consideration. Denmark has made it illegal for hunters to use leaded ammunition as of April 2024, while the United Kingdom is weighing a similar rule that would take effect the same year.
As Fiocchi of America General Manager Jared Smith sees it, lead-free "is where primer manufacturing will go" and the new plant in Little Rock positions the company to lead the market. Not only will it be the only dedicated "green" primer plant in the world, it will be one of just six primer manufacturing operations in the U.S.
Fiocchi anticipates growth of 3%-5% in the commercial ammunition market alone in the coming year. Smith said that when one segment of the business rises, another typically falls. That balance, along with limited competition, helps insulate ammo makers from macroeconomic pressures that might slow other industries. But Fiocchi is still paying attention to those pressures — particularly international unrest.
"We're in the ammo business," Smith said. "For us, we need to keep an eye on it."
Fiocchi chose the Little Rock Port over sites near U.S. Army bases in Virginia and Missouri after evaluating logistical infrastructure, workforce capability, and support from state and local leadership.
The project qualifies for the following state incentives: the Advantage Arkansas Program, which provides state income tax credit for job creation based on the number of new employees hired as a result of the project; the Tax Back Program, which provides sales tax refunds on building materials, taxable machinery, and equipment associated with the project; and $3 million from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund.
Smith and Anthony Acitelli, president and CEO of Fiocchi of America, said the success of the company's existing plant in Pulaski County also played a factor. When Fiocchi began operations at the facility in 2020, the plan was to hire about 80 employees for two to three work shifts. Since then, the plant has grown to a 155-employee operation that runs on a four-shift schedule and has become a model for the company.
"It is the benchmark for Fiocchi for how we go to market and how we look at investment," Acitelli said.
Along with lead-free primer and biodegradable components, Fiocchi is looking to reduce its environmental footprint by building around wetlands at the Little Rock Port. Bryan Day, the port's executive director, said it will be the first "sustainable and green" site of its kind at the port.
Cromwell Architects Engineers of Little Rock is designing the facility.