Portrait of a Gun Manufacturing Town
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
When New York passed a wave of new gun-control laws in January, it outlawed a type of assault rifle made just over an hour's drive from the state capital.
In Ilion, N.Y., it's not hard to be across the street — or at least around the corner — from the Remington Arms factory. Remington makes several types of rifles, including the style used in the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting. In response to that tragedy, New York banned that gun, the Bushmaster AR-15, from being sold in the state.
The laws were pushed through the Legislature quickly, and there's a feeling in Ilion that no one bothered to ask Remington — or the town — their opinion.
Everyone 'Would Be In Trouble'
This town of 8,000 people along the Erie Canal was built around the complex of brick buildings, which began turning out rifles almost 200 years ago. The factory even has its own museum, which draws charter buses full of visitors.
A block away, it's lunchtime at Sorrento Pizzeria. A few of the 1,200 Remington workers trickle in and out. Owner Ignazio Magro used to have that schedule. He came to upstate New York from Italy in 1973. He couldn't speak English, and got a job at the plant. He was laid off a decade later, but used his saved wages to open the restaurant.
"Everybody around this area, if it wasn't for Remington Arms, would be in trouble," he said. "Everybody, lunchtime, 12 o'clock, they're coming over here to get a slice of pizza, whatever they needed."
Generations Of Workers
Those workers have been worried about their jobs with the recent push for new gun legislation. Frank "Rusty" Brown and a few dozen other Remington workers traveled to the Capitol last week to try and make their voices heard.
"I'm one of three generations of my family that worked there. My parents worked there, I work there, my daughter works there," he said. "We've been doing this for many years. We have good-paying union jobs at Remington. That company treats us well."
In the past, New York has treated Remington's owner well, too. Since 2009, New York's economic development agency has given the gun maker more than $5 million to move jobs to Ilion from factories in other states.
John Scarano, director of the county's Chamber of Commerce, is worried the state won't step up if Remington threatens to leave.
"Probably right now, nobody wants to touch it," he said.
He says Remington has always been good to the community.
"We're not only hurt by maybe the possibility of the loss of jobs, but we're hurt because our friend could be hurt, our friend being Remington Arms," Sarcano said.
Thinking Of The Kids
The company sponsors Little League, and children in Ilion go to Remington Elementary School.
David Palmer, whose grandkids attend the school, recognizes how important the gun industry is for this part of the state.
"This whole valley is run by arms. Most of your stores and everybody here, restaurants, everything, is contingent on that plant," he said.
But with young grandkids, he also wants to see some of Remington's products off the shelves.
"I don't believe in assault rifles. There's no need for it. No need for it in our department stores," he continued. "I used to be a hunter, when I was younger. I can see having regular hunting rifles for people who like to hunt, but there's no need for assault rifles here."
Could It Be Remedied?
Palmer worries there will be layoffs, but Brown, the Remington employee, says they haven't heard anything from Remington's owner. The company didn't return requests for an interview.
But Ilion Deputy Mayor Beth Neale has been fielding calls and knocks on her door from residents concerned about the future.
She says Ilion is a community that bands together in tough times, like when a bus maker left last summer. But Remington leaving could be one blow it can't recover from.
"We're always fired up, we're always ready, you know, [if] anyone needs help. We always do that, and that's how you survive," she explained. "I don't know if losing Remington would be something that easily remedied. I really don't."
Neale says Ilion and Remington have "a long tradition of tradition," and she hopes Remington will always be a part of that.
Other Come Courting
Still, that tradition hasn't stopped lawmakers from Michigan, Oklahoma, Arizona and South Carolina sending letters to Remington's owner, Freedom Group, in the last two weeks. Texas sent a letter to the company back in November. It's common practice for the governor's office to send such letters to companies from time to time, according to a spokeswoman.
The letters cite each state's business-friendly environment and support of the Second Amendment, but do not mention specific economic incentives for moving. The letters encourage the company to contact the state's economic development offices.
New York Rep. Richard Hanna, a Republican who represents Ilion, responded in an article in USA Today, writing "The Ilion plant remains highly competitive, and its workers and the community are committed to the success of Remington. I look forward to working with New York state leaders to see that Remington stays here for generations to come and thrives right where it began almost 200 years ago."
Remington Arms has not responded to several phone calls and emails requesting comment, but did tell the Utica Observer-Dispatch last week the company is "carefully evaluating its options."
This story is part of a series being produced by Innovation Trail.