Fired up over gun industry

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There are few opportunities for a small community like the Flathead Valley to get on the economic map, but we seem to be right on target to score a direct hit with at least one of those opportunities.

The Daily Inter Lake last week published an in-depth look at the local firearms industry and profiled many barrel and gun makers and retail firearms outlets who have started or settled here.

What we learned is that many firearms firms are hiring and bulking up their work forces in anticipation of continued growth. Firearms manufacturing jobs have more than doubled from the second quarter of 2011 in Flathead County. There are hundreds of jobs in the gun industry here, with an annual payroll well over $2 million.

There seem to be several reasons why the local firearms industry is booming.

The re-election of President Obama and concern about gun owners’ future rights is perhaps the most obvious component of a marked upswing in firearms manufacturing and sales. There’s widespread fear among gun owners that assault weapons could be banned one day, or that Second Amendment rights will erode under the current administration.

But there are other factors. The National Rifle Association notes that more women are buying guns these days and are the fastest-growing membership group. Shooting sports also are becoming more popular.

Whatever the reasons, the Flathead Valley’s many firearms manufacturing and retail facilities are reaping the benefits big-time. It’s a thriving arena in which most local firearms businesses don’t directly compete with one another, except when looking to hire machinists and other skilled workers.

The Montana Firearms Institute, based here in the Flathead, came on the scene last year to help existing firearms businesses and establish a training program to bring educational institutions and firearms-related manufacturers together. The nonprofit institute’s founders say that collaboration within the local firearms industry is crucial for it to flourish.

There are currently 183 firearms license holders in the Flathead Valley; they include firearms dealers, manufacturers, pawnbrokers, collectors and importers.

Some industry leaders have compared the Flathead Valley to Gordona, Italy, where a cluster of gun makers and related craftsmen turn out high-end products and have established a reputation for excellence. Others say we could be the next Silicon Valley in terms of having a concentrated, successful cluster of firearms firms.

Collaboration is the name of the game, and it looks like all of the resources for this burgeoning industry — from economic development leaders to Flathead Valley Community College and the Montana Firearms Institute — are doing whatever they can to help business owners.

This is a success story we’ll no doubt be writing about for years to come.

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