Walther Arms picks Fort Smith for U.S. HQ

(From TheCityWire.com)

Umarex and Walther Arms, Inc., the maker of the world famous Walther PPK handgun used by James Bond, announced Thursday (Nov. 29)

they would co-locate at 7700 Chad Colley Blvd. in the city’s Chaffee Crossing development.

The announcement came during an event that welcomed community leaders and Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe to the Fort Smith facility, which will act as North American headquarters to Walther and along with expansion of existing Umarex operations, bring “70 to 120 new jobs” to the area, said Adam Blalock, CEO of Walther and Umarex USA.

Combined, the companies plan to invest more than $7 million toward expansion and operations, Blalock added, with new jobs adding to an existing staff of 71 employees in the next five years.

“It is an exciting day and particularly it’s an exciting day for me because Fort Smith has struggled so much with companies that have decided to leave the country, to downsize,” Beebe said in prepared remarks. “And Fort Smith being the area that has the reputation as a manufacturing center has been more subject, I think, to the vagaries of what’s happened in the manufacturing world than other parts of our state. And so when Fort Smith has good news and good announcements to try and offset some of the losses, it’s particularly pleasing to me.”

Beebe continued: “Umarex has grown enormously. Walther is a brand for a lot of reasons that is extremely well-known and well-respected. But what we’re talking about here today is a good company that has already established a great track record, more than doubling their workforce and their footprint not just with the new jobs but with the construction activity that will follow and all of the things that really come with a headquarters and with an organization of this caliber.”

“More than doubling” could be a bit of understatement.

The existing facility broke ground in 2008 during which time it employed 22. If Umarex and Walther are able to maximize planned job creation, that would move employment growth at the facility to around 700% in less than 10 years.

In an interview with The City Wire after the event, Blalock said construction for the expansion will begin “sometime in 2013.”

“We’re doing all the things we need to do to prepare. We’re working with architects, looking at drawings and plans. But basically, the things I could speak to right away that we need: to add to our parking lot, that seems like a small thing but it needs to be done. We need office space internally, some of it temporary, some of it permanently. So it’ll be happening in phases, but any major construction will definitely be in the New Year and probably toward the end of 2013,” Blalock said.

Despite the wait on construction, Blalock said hiring is already underway. “We’re adding jobs already. In fact, we have a new person starting today in web marketing. It’s really a cumulative effect.”

Blalock continued: “For manufacturing jobs, it’s going to be all the things you would normally expect, but the special requirements I can think of for us are to work in our facility, you have to be able to own a firearm. We do that to comply with the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) and those kinds of things. But other than that, good work ethic. Good skill set of basic math and abilities. It’s primarily going to be assembly (jobs) here in the beginning.”
Asked to address any concerns regarding company outlook under the existing presidential administration, Blalock said, “Those kinds of things are always present in business. There are the things that are directly within our control and there are the things that aren’t within our control. Certainly there could be some negative gun legislation. From the current administration, you would expect that. The typical outlook in our industry is that the current administration is great for short-term business because people feel the potential threat of having their gun rights at least infringed upon, so it makes the market good short-term, but obviously long-term, it really could be threatening.”

As for James Bond’s iconic pistol, don’t expect the Fort Smith plant to take over any time soon.

“We will be selling and marketing that gun, so it’s moving through here. But it’s currently produced at Smith & Wesson, and the short-term plan is that it will remain there.”

Following Thursday’s announcement, Beebe took a moment to address the state of manufacturing and what can be done to strengthen it.

In comments to The City Wire, Beebe said the public “can have more to do with protecting manufacturing and increasing manufacturing opportunities by consciously trying to say, ‘We’re going to buy American every chance we get. Given a choice, given an opportunity to buy something that was manufactured somewhere else or manufactured in America, we’re going to make a concerted effort to buy in America.’ That’ll trump whatever Washington does. Whatever the President or the Administration or the Congress does.”

Beebe continued: “The American people are still the boss and they can vote in a number of ways. Not just traditionally. They can vote with their pocketbook, with their feet. They can vote to bring back and ensure that manufacturing in America stays strong. People like me have to use our position to help try to educate the public about the importance of making those choices and making those selections when they get a chance. Americans respond in a very patriotic way when you ask them to.”