MAYODAN — When it came to Sturm Ruger & Co. Inc. choosing where to open its third firearms manufacturing plant, the decision didn’t come down to buildings, incentives or even how gun friendly the community was.
Ruger chose Mayodan and a vacant 220,000-square-foot plant because the potential local workforce “was such a great fit for our company culture,” chief executive Michael Fifer said Tuesday.
Ruger made official that it will create at least 473 jobs and spend at least $26 million on capital investments over five years at the plant in the small Rockingham County town. The company plans to sign the plant lease Friday.
Fifer said Ruger’s made-in-America attitude boils all the way down to the raw materials used in the firearms. “And we thrive, we’re doing well,” Fifer said.
Fifer said the goal is hiring 120 employees within a year and an additional 90 employees each year as it adds one to two product lines. The average wage will be about $45,000 plus benefits. By comparison, the average wage in Rockingham is $33,007.
In return, the company has been made eligible for up to $9.46 million in performance-based incentives from the state’s Job Development Grant. There also could be about another $4 million in state incentives related to employee training and infrastructure construction.
It also likely will receive local incentives, to be voted on in September.
The Golden Leaf Foundation is providing $2 million to the Rockingham County Partnership for Tourism and Economic Development to buy machining equipment that Ruger will lease from the agency. Fifer has said the plant would have all-new equipment.
“It was a long and complex process. We approached many states and had lots of criteria to meet, with some states lining up nicely,” Fifer said. Mayodan was competing with sites in Florida, South Carolina and Texas.
The company gave consultants Greyhill Advisors “a very exhaustive list” for the third manufacturing site. That included looking at crime rates, drug-use rates “because employees must pass a federal background check,” workforce manufacturing skills, not wanting to be in a big industrial park, and a building with room to expand.
“But at the end, it was a very, very easy choice to make,” Fifer said. “The buildings in the other communities were about the same, the economic incentives were about the same. We held job fairs in each of the potential communities.”
Ruger took the unusual step of holding an open house and conducted pre-employment screenings in Madison twice in June. More than 300 people attended each event.
“Our people came back blown away by the reception in Mayodan and Rockingham County,” Fifer said. “They told me ‘They are our kind of folks’ and I have learned they were right. At that point, everything else became icing on the cake.”
Ruger is among the first economic-development projects managed from start to finish by the McCrory administration. Gov. Pat McCrory said the General Assembly’s recent tax overhaul, which he labeled as a “jobs bill,” registered with Fifer and Ruger in making their decision.
“Ruger is a high-quality firearms manufacturer, the best of the best,” McCrory said.
“They put an ad in the newspaper to see what quality of people would respond. You passed the audition. You landed on your feet and you beat the competition.”
After the Ruger announcement, McCrory took one of his “Main Street” tours in Mount Airy.
Mickey Wilson, the New Hampshire plant manager, is shifting to run the Mayodan plant. Although the company kept the applications and contact information from the people attending the job fairs, they also will work with local N.C. Division of Economic Security offices in the hiring process.
Wilson said the company will shift two production lines from the New Hampshire plant with the other lines being dedicated to new products and designs. The initial hiring will include production workers, tool makers and engineers for manufacturing and product design.
“We are planning for a soft opening in the first quarter, but we would like to go full force as quickly after that as we can,” Wilson said.
It is the first manufacturing expansion for Ruger since 1988. The company has about 2,200 employees companywide. Fifer said the company needed the new production space because it had “tapped out space and the local workforce” at its plants.
The company reported a 79.3 percent increase in net income to $32.3 million in the second quarter. Sales were up 49.6 percent to $176.8 million. About 525,600 guns were ordered in the quarter, up from 291,000 in the same period last year.
“We’ve hired about 900 employees in the past five years,” Fifer said. “We don’t know how much longer we can keep it going, but we’re sure going to try.”
The $2 million Golden Leaf grant represents the sixth award of at least $1 million in the Triad over the past 10 years. Altogether, the foundation has committed to providing $15.4 million to 25 Triad and Northwest N.C. projects.
“This is the type project we were set up to assist, helping to refill a manufacturing plant in a rural, Tier 1 county with advanced manufacturing to take the place of legacy manufacturing,” said Dan Gerlach, the foundation’s executive director.