The location of choice for an Italian ammo maker’s second Pulaski County manufacturing plant presents challenging topography dominated by floodplain and wetland. But Fiocchi of America considers the 281-acre site in the Little Rock Port Industrial Park perfect for its $41.5 million complex.
“The site has a lot of wetlands, more than we expected,” said Joe Hilliard, principal and director of engineering at Little Rock’s Cromwell Architects Engineers Inc. “What we’re going to do is not disturb the wetlands at all.”
About half the acreage was farmed, with the balance a soggy mix of ponds, ditches and watery forested areas.
Less than half the property is considered developable as-is, but that fits in just fine with the plans Cromwell is drawing up for Fiocchi.
Site work will follow a different path than the typical approach of cutting trees, draining water and filling in low ground to prepare for industrial construction.
“Fiocchi is spending money to preserve the site,” said Bryan Day, executive director of the Little Rock Port Authority. “Leaving the wetlands in place will help with water runoff and wildlife conservation. This is going to be really exciting for us. It’s the first time anyone has done anything like this at the Little Rock Port.”
The new facility will be devoted to what Fiocchi has produced for decades in Italy but never in the United States: primers, the catalytic component of ammunition.
The primer complex will manufacture the little packages of boom at the back of cartridges and shotshells. When triggered by a firing pin strike, the metal-encased primer ignites the explosive launch of a bullet or blast from a shotgun.
Fiocchi’s complex will produce primers for its catalog of rifle, handgun and shotgun ammunition and afford outsourcing opportunities beyond its in-house needs.
Touted as the world’s first dedicated lead-free primer plant, it will be the sixth primer plant to operate in the U.S. Fiocchi is developing the plant, like its product line, under sustainability goals.
“They are shaping the project to the configuration of the wetlands,” Day said.
Fiocchi will build a roadway circuit with four or five prefabricated bridges to traverse the wet terrain and provide access to pockets of drier land for building sites. Tying into this circular drive will be a scattering of 30 buildings that involve 24 different design plans to accommodate the production of various sized primers.
“It’s 30 buildings, but only 85,000 to 90,000 SF total in all the buildings,” Hilliard said.
Because explosive components are in play, Fiocchi will disperse the buildings at a safe distance from one another according to blast arc calculations.
“The project is unique because they needed buffer areas,” Day said. “This site works for that, but it wouldn’t for a normal industrial development.”
That’s because undeveloped space is as important a consideration as build-ready ground for Fiocchi to spread its buildings around the site. That makes it possible for Fiocchi to conserve wetlands and pay lower land costs.
“We looked at several sites in Arkansas,” said Tim Caldwell, vice president and general manager at Fiocchi of America. “When the port property came up as an option, we started digging a little deeper into that site because it’s already an industrial site and the Little Rock area has a large base of labor to draw from.
“It’s a green site in addition to what we’re going to be doing there. We hope to break ground sometime this summer, in June or July.”
Construction is expected to take 17 months, and if that holds true, production will start in the first quarter of 2025. The primer plant is expected to employ 120.
“We have estimated that we will spend over 14,000 hours on the design and contract administration for this project during the construction,” Hilliard said. “About 75% of that time will be spent in the design phase. That time will be spent by approximately 30 people in our office.”
The scope of the firm’s work on the Fiocchi project spreads across 11 departments: architecture, interior design, civil engineering, structural engineering, mechanical engineering, plumbing, electrical engineering, fire protection engineering, specifications, administration and contract administration.
“People see a building being constructed, and they don’t understand the time and planning that goes into making it happen,” Hilliard said.
Coinciding with the Fiocchi project is planning for an estimated $5 million road improvement project at the Little Rock Port Industrial Park.
The work focuses on building 3,800 feet of paved roadway south from the intersection of Zeuber and Thibault roads along the west side of the 289-acre Trex Co. property to the Fiocchi site. A short stretch of pavement will connect Fiocchi east to Thibault Road.
The big-picture plan is to eventually extend the new north-south road along the east side of the Fiocchi property and about a mile-and-half farther to connect with Harper Road.
Fiocchi Adds to International Flavor at Port
Fiocchi Munizioni checks another box on the global score card for foreign investment at the Little Rock Port Industrial Park. The addition of the company’s ammunition primer complex will bring an Italian flavor to the park’s manufacturing menu.
Fiocchi also sports a second European flag courtesy of a conglomerate based in the Czech Republic. Czechoslovak Group acquired a 70% stake in the company nine days after the Little Rock primer plant was announced Nov. 15. The Fiocchi family and Charme Capital Partners, a private equity firm in the United Kingdom that bought 60% of the small arms munitions company in 2018, retained the balance of the ownership.
When the deal with Czechoslovak Group was announced, Fiocchi’s 2022 revenue was on track to reach $396 million.
The Fiocchi primer development represents foreign-owned venture No. 6 at the Little Rock Port Industrial Park. “It helps us show the world that we have something to offer,” said Bryan Day, executive director of the Little Rock Port Authority.
Fiocchi will join Welspun Pipes (India), oil and gas pipe; Swiss-owned Georg Fischer Harvel, plastic pipe and fittings; Synthesia Technology (Spain), chemicals for insulation manufacturers; China’s Ty Garments, activewear; and Novus International, owned by Japan’s Mitsui & Co. Ltd., feed additives.