Gunwerks expansion

Gunwerks CEO Aaron Davidson requests funding for his company’s expansion during a Wyoming Business Council board meeting at the Holiday Inn on Thursday.

A city sponsored application seeking $6 million from the state to entice Gunwerks manufacturing to expand and add jobs in Cody has passed the second of three approval rounds.

The project garnered unanimous approval.

During its fiscal year 2019 first-quarter meeting Thursday at the Cody Holiday Inn, the Wyoming Business Council Board of Directors approved a full-funding package for the new, larger building Gunwerks needs to continue growing its firearms company in Wyoming.

WBC board’s approval – divided into a $3 million grant and a $3 million loan – is contingent on Gunwerks securing necessary equipment financing. According to a project overview, the firearms shooting system manufacturer plans to buy $5.03 million in equipment over five years.

The State Loan and Investment Board comprised of the five statewide elected officials will make final funding decisions on all fiscal year 2019 first-quarter Business Ready Community funding projects. The SLIB meets in Cheyenne Oct. 4

Addressing the WBC board, Forward Cody president James Klessens emphasized Gunwerks’ local connection as a reason to fund the company established 10 years ago in Burlington .

“What we love about the project is that it’s built here in the (Big Horn) Basin by local people with local talent,” he said.

In 2016 Gunwerks moved from Burlington into Forward Cody’s light manufacturing incubator at 2301 Lt. Childers off the Greybull Highway. At the time founders Aaron Davidson, CEO, and Mike Davidson, director of manufacturing operations, promised to add 13 positions.

They’ve hired 25, upping total employees in Cody to 44, and are “busting at the seams,” said Klessens, referring to the reason Gunwerks is considering a $6.27 million expansion.

By the time the building is ready in December 2019, they expect to have 58 employees in Cody, he said.

Gunwerks designs and manufactures high-precision, long-range shooting systems, including the rifle, optics, rangefinder and ammunition. Gunwerks markets its shooting systems internationally.

It offers a series of training programs for long range shooters, something Aaron Davidson said not only brings participants to Wyoming, but also their family members who tour the area.

“We’re not just a gun company,” he said. “We’re not necessarily a manufacturing company. We’re an innovation company.”

He spoke of the company’s deliberate intent to grow slowly, its industry-changing products launched and a high-end, premium system.

“We feel we have a unique product that’s competitive globally,” he said.

Most manufacturing takes place in Ohio and Utah now.

“We just don’t have the space,” he said of the leased Cody facility.

The Davidsons grew up in the Basin, and Aaron said it’s important to achieve success here. But one challenge is convincing Gunwerks’ seven engineers earning compensation packages “well into six figures” to move to Cody, he said.

“I hope this building will help us grow and stay in Wyoming,” he said.

Klessens reminded the board Gunwerks’ annual salaries exceed Park County’s median wage of $40,040. The company projects achieving a $60,363 median wage at Year Five.

Several board members voiced their support of Gunwerks as a good match for Wyoming.

“We need growth and this is what we need to do,” said Mike Wandler of Gillette.

He pointed to the importance of supporting a business run by entrepreneurs who grew up in Wyoming.

“I would not worry if engineers are spread about the world,” he said, adding that it’s OK to grow innovative areas around the globe.

“It’s important for the owners and the expansion and the company to stay located in Wyoming in the long term,” he said.

Referencing the Cody business tour the WBC took on Wednesday, Cactus Covello of Torrington, said it’s important the Gunwerks project make sense here, and it does, he said.

Riverton entrepreneur Jason Kintzler echoed Wandler’s point.

“What we need to do sometimes is invest in people,” he said. “It’s hard to bring people to the state. But if we have the opportunity to help people here to grow, we really should double down on that.”

As board members debated whether to exceed a $8.08 million quarterly budget by approving $12-$14 million in project requests, they asked representatives to say whether they could accept 90 percent of their funding requests.

“No,” Klessens said.

Without the total package, he said the Gunwerks expansion in Cody cannot happen.

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