MONTGOMERY, Alabama — A handshake in a Huntsville restaurant one night last December signaled success in Alabama’s campaign to land Remington Outdoor Co.’s hotly pursued expansion project. Getting to that point, however, required intense planning, skillful teamwork and an ideal site for the company.
“Project Traveler, ” the codename given to the recruitment effort, climaxed Monday when Remington announced plans to open a $110.9 million production facility in Huntsville that eventually will have more than 2,000 jobs.
This story recounts how Project Traveler unfolded over a six-month period.
By the time Remington’s expansion project came into play in mid-2013, Alabama’s economic development team had already crafted a strategy aimed at attracting firearms makers to the state, stressing Alabama’s firearms sporting heritage, business-friendly climate, highly regarded workforce training programs and its manufacturing history.
“Alabama provides a very, very good environment for manufacturing,” said Pete Schaum, a senior project manager at the state Department of Commerce. “We can make missile parts, gun parts, automobile parts — you name it, we can make it in Alabama.”
Alabama had another key asset in its favor as it courted Remington — an available, three-building complex at the Jetplex Industrial Park, adjacent to the Huntsville International Airport. The 800,000-square-foot site, where Chrysler once produced electronics system for automobiles, proved to be a major factor in Remington’s decision.
“It’s one of the best available buildings I have ever seen. It’s a great, great building,” Schaum said.
Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield said landing the Remington project demonstrates the state’s competitiveness on the economic development stage and highlights its many business advantages. The project will have a massive economic impact on the Huntsville region, he added.
“Remington is a world-class company that selected Alabama for an expansion project that will create thousands of jobs and bring new capabilities to the region,” Canfield said. “Remington will carry out research and development at its new Alabama home and perform the kind of precision manufacturing that this state’s workforce is known for.”
Canfield said teamwork played a pivotal role in the outcome. The state’s economic development team worked closely with their counterparts in North Alabama, and utilities operating in the state assisted with the recruitment. The Tennessee Valley Authority, in particular, provided incentives for the project as part of its Valley Investment Initiative, which targets projects that have a large economic impact.
Canfield said support such as that given by TVA made success in Project Traveler possible.
An unlikely player in the effort became Birmingham lawyer Jim Porter, the president of the National Rifle Association, who helped the Alabama team make contact with Remington early on, Schaum said.
Alabama’s pursuit of Remington began in July 2013, when Schaum placed a phone call to a top executive at the Freedom Group (now called Remington Outdoor Co.), the manufacturer’s Madison, North Carolina-based parent company. Alabama’s recruiters initially learned that no expansion plans were in the works, though that would soon change.
Early the next month, after getting a green light, Alabama’s team began pulling together a pitch that included several sites across the state. By that time, the company had been contacted by multiple states about a possible project, according to Alabama officials speaking after the deal was completed.
Remington outlined its site-search criteria at the Huntsville announcement. For one thing, the company was looking for a state with pro-business policies that favored firearms-makers. It wanted a state with a good manufacturing environment that could provide a skilled workforce, making future expansion a possibility. It also wanted an existing building so it could move quickly.
On Aug. 23, Schaum and Alabama’s recruitment team sent an official proposal to Remington, highlighting possible sites from among nine counties across the state, including Huntsville. At the urging of Alabama Power Co. economic developer Patrick Murphy, the team decided that day to change the project codename from “Eagle” to “Traveler” to add another layer of security to the effort, Schaum said.
Alabama, it turned out, was competing against nearly two dozen other states for the prize project.
Not long after Alabama submitted its proposal, Remington representatives arrived in Huntsville to inspect the Chrysler building complex at Jetplex Industrial Park. The building had been vacant for about three years.
Canfield said the former Chrysler complex represented a major advantage for the Alabama recruitment team because it was ready for a rapid reconfiguring. Remington needed to move quickly to expand its manufacturing capacity because of unprecedented customer demand for its products.
The Huntsville site offered Remington 500,000 square feet of manufacturing space, plus extras. One of the buildings has an auditorium with seating for more than 300. There was nearly 120,000 square feet of space that previously had been used for research and development of automobile electronics systems.
“They kept coming back, coming back and coming back, and they decided that would work for what they needed it to do,” said Brooks Kracke, director of the Jetplex Industrial Park.
Tate Godfrey, president and chief executive of the North Alabama Industrial Development Association, said Remington sent in teams including engineers to inspect the building. Company representatives stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton at the Huntsville Airport and set up temporary office space, he said.
“The more they dug into the building, the better it looked,” said Godfrey, who was involved in Project Traveler almost from the start.
DINNER AND A HANDSHAKE
As Project Traveler negotiations heated up, many key details had to be ironed out for Remington. Canfield, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and the Alabama team had to provide answers on everything from estimated electric bills to training on specialized equipment that would be used in the facility.
On Oct. 10, Canfield and Huntsville area officials laid out a comprehensive pitch to Remington leaders during a three-hour meeting in a conference room at the Huntsville airport. AIDT chief Ed Castile discussed Alabama’s job training programs, while Battle and Chip Cherry, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County, talked about the area’s advantages.
Castile’s role was important because Remington had to be convinced Alabama could provide the large workforce it needed for precision manufacturing processes. That’s a specialty for AIDT, which has assisted Mercedes-Benz and other companies assemble skilled Alabama workforces.
“AIDT is No. 1 in the nation,” Schaum said.
The talks moved toward a climax, with the project still cloaked in the confidentiality demanded by Remington. In early December, Governor Bentley, Canfield, Battle and other members of the Alabama team sat down for dinner with Remington Chairman and Chief Executive George Kollitides along with selected Remington board and executive team members at Cotton Row, a restaurant in downtown Huntsville.
“It was at that meeting that the handshake was done,” Godfrey said.
After the handshake to seal the verbal agreement, Canfield removed his “Made in Alabama” lapel pin off his suit jacket and handed it to Kollitides, along with a promise that a new valued partnership was only just beginning.
There was still a lot of work to do, but the moment set the stage for the official announcement in Huntsville on Feb. 17.