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Sturgis takes aim at firearms industry

Long Rifle, Inc., employees finish painting a customer's rifle stock. With the increasing...
Long Rifle, Inc., employees finish painting a customer's rifle stock. With the increasing popularity of sport and competition shooting, as well as the self-defense market, firearms manufacturers are hustling to keep up with customer demand. (KOTA)
Published: May. 23, 2016 at 2:00 PM CDT
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When South Dakota began courting firearms companies in the 1980s, no one had an inkling of an idea of how the industry would explode in the 21st century.

“It started 10 to 12 years ago as a grass roots thing and in the last three to four years it has just exploded and we are very fortunate we’ve been able to rise with that sea and get a good foothold and presence on it,” Chad Dixon, owner of Long Rifle Inc., said.

In 2014 alone, firearms and ammunitions accounted for $43 billion of the U.S. economy; and 263,000 jobs that paid $13.7 billion. That is according to a

.

Irving Stone of Bar-Sto Precision Machine believes most of the growth is in the recreational target shooting and self-defense markets. “There’s been a huge increase in people involved in firearms in general,” Stone said.

South Dakota, while a small state in population, is a major player in the industry.

claims the state is sixth in the nation for the number of firearms industry jobs per capita; and ninth in total firearms industry output per capita.

A state economic impact statement on the industry says it accounts for 712 direct jobs with wages of $31.5 million; an average of $44,264 per job, well above the state average wage of $38,820.

When the industry surged, Sturgis was already well-positioned as an industry leader.

Pat Kurtenbach, president of the Sturgis Economic Development Corporation, said the town was fortunate to have visionary people push for an industrial park. “And once that was started we then became interested in the firearms industry because of all the business-friendly regulations from the state’s perspective,” Kurtenback explained.

First to take notice of Sturgis was Dakota Arms, followed by Corbon/Glaser.

“So with those two anchors – With Dakota Arms, with Corbon – we were really set to go for the firearms industry. Since then it has completely mushroomed,” Kurtenback said.

As of May 2016, Sturgis has 11 firearms manufacturers employing 80 people in its industrial park.

Those manufacturers are poised to add more staff. “We have a little growth; we’re going to expand a little bit add some products,” Stone admitted.

Stone says that growth comes with caution.

"This industry has been on a huge climb for the past eight years now. We’re cranking along; we’re doing good and we’re happy about that but you have to watch out. You can get ahead of yourself and when it finally does take a downturn, there can be problems with that."

(see ATF report on U.S. firearms manufacturing in related links)

For Sturgis, that growth means hopefully a new industrial park since they only have four acres left in the current park.

As for the new park’s businesses … “We are definitely going to continue with the firearms industry,” Kurtenback said. “We’ve got a good thing going. We’ve got a track record that we’re very proud of and we can continue to grow.”