Gunmaker sets sights on South Carolina [Waterbury Republican-American]

June 20, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Waterbury Republican-American

CEO complains of unfriendly climate since Newtown shootings

BRISTOL — Gun manufacturer PTR Industries will relocate its business to near Myrtle Beach, S.C., and more than half of his 43 employees are moving with the company. John Fiorini, chief executive officer, confirmed Wednesday that his business will move to South Carolina in the wake of stricter gun control laws and what he called an unfriendly climate since the Newtown school shootings in December. Fiorini previously said he was considering South Carolina, Texas and New Hampshire. Twenty-nine employees have decided to follow their jobs and also leave the state, Fiorini said. A few more remain undecided, he said. Fiorini decided to move the company shortly after Connecticut passed a new gun law less than four months after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 26 people died, including 20 children. The new law expands the definition of assault weapons banned in the state and limits magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds. South Carolina offers a “friendly political climate” but also a quality of life that was a “big bonus to employee retention,” Fiorini said. The company is moving to a town called Aynor, about 15 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach. According to the 2011 census, Aynor is home to about 532 residents, with a median age of 41 years. It’s next to a larger town called Conway, with about 17,000 people and a much younger median age of 29.3 years. The median household income in both Aynor and Conway is about $35,000, compared to South Carolina’s median household income of $42,442.

The median rent in Aynor is $500 a month and in nearby Conway is $561 a month; the median home value is $167,606. Those present very different numbers than Bristol, PTR’s current home, which has 60,484 residents, a median age of 40, and much higher median household incomes ($57,056 for the city, $67,034 for the state.) The median home value in Bristol is $220,000, and rent, $810. Bristol Mayor Arthur Ward said while he did not know if the 29 employees who decided to leave live in Bristol or other nearby towns, the departure of the company and the employees will be a big loss to Bristol and to the region. “It’s going to have a negative effect all the way around,” Ward said. “They’ve been a stable part of the community.”

Fiorini had been looking to move from his current location on Cross Street to expand his business for some time. The discussion had been to relocate elsewhere in Bristol. After the Newtown shootings and expanded gun restrictions, which banned the sales of everything his company produces, he started looking outside Connecticut to expand. Fiorini said he expects to increase the number of employees from 43 to 140 in three years by doubling production from 1,000 units a month to 2,000 a month. Doubling production will add about 30 more employees and more employees will be added by doing the metal finishing in house instead of outsourcing the jobs. Fiorini said he is hoping to move by January 2014. He can move a bulk of his assembly and warehouse operations down by then but moving his heavy machinery down by then may be a challenge.

Michael Nicastro, president and chief executive officer of the Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce in Bristol, said he wasn’t surprised PTR picked South Carolina. He said the state has been aggressive in attracting businesses by investing in their infrastructure and education. Nicastro was critical of the Connecticut legislature for bills they’ve debated and passed that are scaring business owners from doing business here. Nicastro says he works often with the state Department of Economic and Community Development staff but says the staff there is “swimming against the tide” because of the legislature.

“We’re doing the things we need to do to make it a viable, interesting place to be, but legislatively, they continue this series of new mandates constantly,” Nicastro said. “If they don’t pass it this time around, they try to pass it next time.”

Nicastro cites the legislature’s attempt to require small businesses owners 20 hours of leave to employees to attend school functions and the passage of a law to have paid sick leave. “Good employers with good employees take care of their employees,” Nicastro said. “We don’t need to be told and certainly don’t need to be handcuffed,” Nicastro said.

A spokesman for House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, a D-88th District, did not return a call for comment. State Sen. Jason Welch, R-31, said in a press release that PTR’s departure is “unfortunate but understandable.” “They were already dealing in a high cost of operation environment. Misguided gun legislation that banned their product and a failure to get straight answers from the state as to its impact on their operations were obvious tipping points,” said Welch, a member of the legislature’s Manufacturing Caucus.