German gun manufacturer Heckler & Koch on Thursday pulled the trigger on an announcement that it is pumping $28.5 million into a new 50,000-square-foot facility in Columbus’ Corporate Ridge Business Park. The company said it will create 84 jobs over two years.
This will be the second time in more than a decade that Oberndorf, Germany-based H&K, which also has offices and facilities in Ashburn, Va., and Newington, N.H., has made a decision to grow its presence in a major way in Columbus.
It previously shelved plans in 2005 to build a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility here, employing 200 people or more, after attempts to land a U.S. Army contract for the XM8 assault rifle it had developed fell through. The XM8 would have replaced the Army’s M4 Carbine and M-16 rifles.
Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce’s economic development Executive Vice President Bill Murphy simply said Thursday the latest venture was a long time coming and he sees it paying off with tangible benefits for the city.
“A company doesn’t invest $28.5 million without what they believe are some significant growth opportunities for their guns,” Murphy said. “These aren’t entry-level or minimum-wage jobs. These are very well-paying manufacturing jobs.”
Brian Sillitto, the chamber senior vice president who worked the project, said Heckler & Koch already employs about 50 at its current 5675 Transport Blvd. facility in Corporate Ridge Business Park. The existing building is just over 13,000 square feet.
“Currently they do assembly and distribution. The expansion will have a manufacturing component,” Sillitto said.
A built-in generator of jobs, presumably, is H&K’s plans to relocate its New Hampshire operations to Columbus when the local construction is completed this summer. The gun manufacturer didn’t say Thursday what types of firearms or accessories it would craft in its new building, which is being constructed on ground just behind its current facility.
The New Hampshire factory opened in 2009, with plans to manufacture two new rifles — the HK MR556 and HK MR762 — targeted for U.S. and foreign law enforcement and military customers. The company had launched pistol manufacturing at the site in late 2008, according to a press release at the time. The company has not said how many people are employed at the New Hampshire plant.
Heckler & Koch has been unveiling new products and contracts of late, however. Most notably, the company last April said it had landed a $44.5 million agreement with the U.S. Army to make up to 3,643 compact sniper rifles to replace older and heavier ones used by the stealthy military fighters. The contract included making parts and offering support and training to the Army.
“The HK CSASS rifle is a substantial upgrade over the Army’s current sniper rifles, enhancing accuracy and reliability while providing for a handier, more compact arm,” Wayne Weber, president of Heckler & Koch USA, said in a statement at the time. “It also confirms Heckler & Koch as a leader in providing small arms to the U.S. military.”
Francisco Hidalgo, CEO of HKUSA, stressed Thursday in a statement that the Columbus location will be a state-of-the-art facility staffed with very experienced personnel.
“HK’s new U.S. factory will make use of advanced manufacturing technologies and will be staffed by German and American engineers and technicians,” he said. “The HK products will maintain the same level of quality and reliability that the consumer has grown to expect from HK.”
That sure sounds like an executive planning to ramp up hiring and production at a new Columbus plant. But it obviously will take time. The company’s online career page on Thursday only had a listing for a design engineer in Columbus.
For Murphy, whose job it is to track down and secure jobs for the Columbus area, the gunmaker’s announcement was sweet. He said there’s nothing like starting a year with a capital project valued at nearly $30 million. And he expects more to come.
“This is, I believe, a good indicator of some good successes that we’re going to see in 2017,” he said. “There’s at least a couple of other significant projects that we’ve been working on for some time that we’re increasingly confident will see news in 2017, and perhaps in early 2017.”
Murphy said the future projects would be a mix of existing company expansions and new businesses. The kicker, he said, is that the employers will offer “really good jobs.”