Wyoming’s top elected officials have approved a $6 million grant and loan funding package for Gunwerks to expand its manufacturing facility in Cody.
The action was the final step needed for Gunwerks to increase production of its premium long-range rifle systems in Cody.
Company spokesman Michael LaBazzo expressed appreciation for support on state and local levels.
“Without [the funding award] we would not be able to complete expansion in Cody,” he said. “It helps us realize [Aaron Davidson’s] dream of growing the company here in the Big Horn Basin.”
Plans are to begin construction this spring so Gunwerks can move into a new, larger facility by the end of 2019.
Forward Cody will build the 36,080-square-foot steel-sided building with a $3 million, 30-year amortized Business Ready Community loan at 1.5 percent and a $3 million Wyoming Business Council grant. Gunwerks will then lease the facility as part of a 20-year agreement. The lease payments will go toward repaying the state money.
As a grant match, Gunwerks has donated roughly 5-acres north of Big Horn Cinemas that overlook the Shoshone River. The land value at 201 Blackburn puts the total project cost at $6.27 million. A condition of state aid is the company must buy $5 million in equipment.
Gunwerks designs and manufactures high-precision, long-range shooting systems that include the rifle, optics, rangefinder and ammunition. Gunwerks markets its shooting systems internationally.
LaBazzo said plans to expand started more than a year ago with talks with the governor’s office. On Wednesday in Cheyenne he met with Ed Buchanan, secretary of state; Mark Gordon, treasurer, and Cynthia Cloud, auditor, to review the project and answer questions.
On Thursday, the three state officials asked a few more questions about the company and firearms industry before voting 3-0 to fully-fund the project. Gov. Matt Mead and education superintendent Jillian Balow were absent.
“The officials didn’t focus on a single issue,” he said.
They sought assurance Gunwerks had financing in place to purchase additional equipment once operations are moved to the new facilities. They asked about expected new positions and about other products offered by Gunwerks such as the optics products and a new rifle scope LaBazzo described as “revolutionary in industry.”
State officials wondered how future legislation on the state and federal level would affect the company. To that, LaBazzo said Gunwerks builds a bolt action gun and there’s never been a push to restrict bolt-action, single-fire hunting rifles.
Forward Cody CEO James Klessens pointed to the fact the project received 100 percent endorsement by local and state officials, from Forward Cody board members and the Cody City Council to the Wyoming Business Council staff and board and finally State Loan and Investment Board.
“The fact this is a local-grown project was pretty powerful,” he said.
Gunwerks is not just a gun company, he said. It’s on the cutting edge of technology in optics and ballistics.
“They are kind of leading-edge on really powerful things,” he said.
Technology is important to state officials, Klessens said.
“It’s not just people building a good gun,” he added.
In March 2016 Davidson moved the company base from Burlington to a larger facility west of the Cody airport where it now builds and tests shooting systems. The new facility will allow Gunwerks to move manufacturing, office, retail and warehouse space from four locations into one building. A shooting tunnel, parking lot and loading dock are included in the project. The prefabricated building is designed to expand incrementally with additions.
LaBazzo said the company is at full capacity.
“We won’t do a whole lot of hiring until we move into new space,” he said.
Gunwerks employs roughly 44 employees in Cody. The plan is to employ more than 100 people after five years.
The process to hire architect and engineers is underway. LaBazzo said the hope is to conduct interviews next week. Once designs are ready, the project will be let for bid.
Klessens said it could take 8-12 weeks for the pre-fabricated building to arrive.
“If we start aggressively March 1, we can be done by December (2019),” he said.