Sam Page steps out of his jeep wrangler wearing a green hunting suit, boots and a black hat. Everything but his hands, face and neck is covered. It’s a sizzling Thursday summer afternoon and Page is dripping with sweat. After a short walk into the woods, he plants his feet, focuses on a steel plate about 50 feet in front of him— and fires.
The Rockingham County Sheriff takes a few more rounds of target practice and then secures the clip to his firearm on the left side of his belt. Along with many others around these parts, Page is excited for the addition of Sturm, Ruger and Company. The Connecticut-based gun manufacturer has chosen this county along the Virginia border for expansion.
"Ruger makes a good shotgun, good rifles, good pistols,” Page says. “So again they make a wonderful product."
Sturm, Ruger has manufacturing plants in New Hampshire and Arizona. The company’s third factory will be in Mayodan, a once vibrant textile community. Sturm, Ruger plans to bring more than 450 jobs and invest $26 million. New positions will include production workers, tool makers, manufacturing engineers and product design engineers. Rockingham County has about 90,000 residents and is gun friendly, although that wasn’t what made this location so enticing.
"The unemployment rate is very low up there,” says Rockingham County Manager Lance Metzler. “Here, there’s an abundance of people who are willing and ready to work and I think that is one thing they were intrigued by was our availability of workforce."
New Hampshire has an unemployment rate of 2 percent. In Rockingham County it’s higher than 10 percent. At a job fair earlier this summer more than 1,000 local resident submitted applications when they heard an unnamed gun company might be relocating.
Steve Moore drinks a soda inside of a gas station a few miles down the road.
"I think that will spur other jobs and other companies to come here as well,” he says. "They’re going to have to have support and other things like that. So I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg for creating more jobs, more employment for the area."
Sturm, Ruger has already spoken with more than 250 prospective employees.
"Certainly businesses are looking for areas that have the type of skilled labor that their business requires,” says Holly Wade, a Senior Policy Analyst with the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
"Many businesses now are very hesitant to expand now knowing what economic conditions are going to be like six months out; what costs they will have to incur through higher taxes or regulations, but if they do see opportunities they’re certainly going to look for areas that can alleviate some of that uncertainty."
Gun sales and background checks are up across the country in 2013 and the company has had two successful quarters. Sturm, Ruger is expected to secure economic incentives from the town and county later this week. Officials with the county hope the factory is up and running, and that hundreds are back to work, by the end of the year.