Spokane Journal of Business

Bullet makers to add jobs at Lewiston-area plants

Demand causes ATK to enlarge staff; expansion planned by Extreme Bullet

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The owners of two Lewiston, Idaho, bullet-making operations plan to add significant numbers of workers, with one doing so this year and the other gradually through an expansion.

The larger of the two, ATK, a Minneapolis-based company, says it expects to add about 100 jobs at its Lewiston ammunition plant by the end of this year, and the other, Extreme Bullet, will expand into two buildings near Lewiston's airport in new operations that could employ another 100 within two to three years.

ATK's staff additions will continue a trend that began after the company, an aerospace and defense conglomerate, had a reduction in force at the Lewiston plant in January 2009 that temporarily cost between 70 and 80 workers their jobs.

"We've hired those people back," says Jason Nash, an Anoka, Minn.-based spokesman for ATK who handles communications for the company's Lewiston plant. ATK's formal name is Alliant Techsystems Inc.

It's a diversified company that also makes weaponry for the military and other products as well as ammunition for the sporting and law-enforcement markets. It had $1.2 billion in sales in its fiscal first quarter ended July 4.

The new hires should give ATK a total of about 1,200 workers by the end of 2010 at its plant on the east side of the Snake River not far from downtown Lewiston.

"We've definitely had a few good years at the plant there," Nash says. "There's been an increased demand for sporting ammunition, which has allowed us to add to our employment base." The company makes .22 caliber and .17 caliber rimfire target-shooting and small-game rounds; 9 millimeter, .40 caliber, and .45 caliber rounds for law enforcement and large-caliber pistol enthusiasts; and components for reloaders of sporting ammunition.

Last year, the plant landed a $14 million contract from France for 9 mm law-enforcement ammunition.

The plant had 884 employees at the beginning of 2009, then climbed to 1,090 employees by last November. It has somewhere around 1,100 workers now, Nash says.

"There's been an overall increase in demand" for ammunition despite the U.S. economy's troubles, Nash says. "As people tighten their belts, they tend to hold on to their hobbies."

Meanwhile, in one of its two new operations, Extreme Bullet will house a bullet-making operation, while in the other, it will disassemble bullets from big ammunition factories that don't meet specifications, says the Idaho state Department of Commerce.

The department says Extreme Bullet's owner, David Howell, also operates Howell Machine Inc. and Ammo Load Worldwide Inc., which employ 44 people in downtown Lewiston.

Howell Machine makes parts for large-scale manufacturers such as ATK, while Ammo Load produces manufacturing equipment for small- to mid-size manufacturers, the Department of Commerce says. It says Extreme Bullet hoped to open its new facilities in about September. The company's executives couldn't be reached for comment.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents the firearms industry, says the industry added 16,800 jobs last year and has been a bright spot during the economic downturn.

"So far, indications are business should remain good," Nash says.

The Lewiston ATK operation was launched by Vernon Speer, who started a company known as Speer Bullets after he moved to Lewiston in 1944. His brother, Dick, started a company known as Cascade Cartridges Inc., or CCI, in 1951, with a partner, Arvid Nelson, to make components for small-arms primers and, later, shot-shell primers.

Today, the bullet-making plant produces both Speer and CCI branded ammunition. ATK acquired the plant in 2001. Vernon Speer died in 1979, and Dick Speer died in 1994.

"That whole northwestern territory has a rich history of the firearms industry," Nash says. For example, a Bend, Ore., company supplies bullets for Federal ammunition, another ATK brand.

Lewiston is the home of the Jack O'Connor Hunting Heritage & Education Center, which honors one of the nation's most famed outdoor writers, whose hunting articles in Outdoor Life attracted a wide following.

"We've been fortunate to be in a business that's been doing pretty well over the last few years," says Nash.

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