Detroit is known for cars, Los Angeles for its stars, now small towns in Idaho are trying to become gun towns. But it’s not exactly a return to the Wild West: The goal is to get people working again.
“It’s gonna create some jobs,” says David Brown, mayor of Potlatch, Idaho. “We can stay here, our kids can stay here and live and work.”
Potlatch, in western Idaho, for generations was a mill town. In 1906, it boasted the world’s largest pine saw mill. Its lumber built cities all over the United States. But in 1981, with its mill obsolete, Potlatch Lumber Inc. closed the mill and, with it, the town’s identity.
PNW Arms, a high-tech ammunition company based in Seattle, was recently looking for a new home. Tired of the long drives to the shooting range to test their products and the laundry list of government regulations on weapons makers, PNW Arms settled on Potlatch.
“We have a welcoming environment,” says William Lyon, vice president of sales and marketing at PNW Arms. “We’re able to bring on staff that is familiar with our kind of work, and our supply chain is a lot closer.”
About 58 companies that make either guns or ammunition are currently based in Idaho, and government officials throughout the state are targeting more. The Commerce Department calls it ‘Rec-Tech’. The state legislature is gun-friendly, passing a law that shields weapons makers from liability when their products are involved in tragedies. The goal is to poach gun makers from states where the industry is heavily regulated.
Potlatch is just getting started. B.J. Swanson, Latah County’s economic development director, has had inquiries from six weapons makers in the past few weeks. She and other officials envision an industrial park on the site of the old mill. Artist drawings show the manufacturing plants surrounded by stores and restaurants catering to gun enthusiasts.
“Big, yes,” says Swanson. “To start off with, maybe small. Maybe a couple companies with 10 employees would be a great start, and we could expand from there.”
Mayor Brown says gun crime is not a concern. Firearms are already a way of life in Potlatch. “Every pickup in town, you’ll see a gun in the rack,” says Brown. He only sees opportunity. “The guns are gonna be built someplace, why not here?” says Brown. “It’s controlled; we’re not having a lot of killings around here.”