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December 29, 2013

Missed it by that much

Greenville was in the hunt for a firearms plant

GREENVILLE — It has been a pretty big year for economic development in Greenville.

But Greenville almost pulled the trigger on another high caliber industry, before the company decided to aim at targets in other states instead.

“Greenville was in the hunt,” said Board of Development President/CEO Greg Sims of how close the city came to landing a new manufacturing plant for Beretta firearms.

After a nationwide search, Greenville was one of three finalist cities for the facility in Texas, before representatives with Beretta chose last month to eliminate all locations in the Lone Star State from consideration.

City officials gave it their best shot.

Earlier this year, Beretta was looking to build a new, 50,000 square foot office and production facility which would initially employ 30 to 50 people. The structure would include specialized manufacturing and possibly a custom wood working shop to make shotgun stocks, starting in 2014.

The project might eventually expand to manufacturing, warehouse/distribution, marketing and engineering, with a payroll of up to 600 employees across some 400,000 square feet of building space.

Beretta contacted economic development officials in seven “firearms friendly” states, under the code name “Project Clover.” The contacts included the Office of Governor Rick Perry, who in turn reached out to economic development professionals in the state, including Sims.

“We got the notice from the Governor’s office on July 1,” Sims said. However, there was no indication of exactly what “Project Clover” was. “We didn’t know who it was at first.”

Beretta was only interested in locating in 13 Texas counties; which included Hunt, Rockwall, Collin, Kaufman, Dallas and Tarrant counties.

Among the criteria, the company was seeking availability of up to 100 acres of land, preferably with a freestanding, somewhat isolated building of approximately 50,000 square feet.

The site must be zoned for industrial use, away from neighboring schools and residential developments and the building must have the ability to allow weapons firing.

 The location must also have air service allowing direct flights to Baltimore/Washington D.C., New York, Las Vegas, and Dallas and non-stop access to a hub airport with flights to Milan, London, Frankfurt and Helsinki.

Other considerations included significant amounts of available electricity, natural gas, water/wastewater and more.

Sims said Greenville’s proposal covered all the bases.

“We made a great showing to them,” Sims said of the city’s proposal, which was submitted on July 8, one week after local officials were contacted.

On Sept. 17, the Governor’s office again contacted the City of Greenville, indicating the city was chosen for a site visit by “Project Clover” representatives.

On Sept. 25, Sims, Board of Development Chairman Larry Green Jr. and incoming Chairman Warren Weeks, County Judge John Horn, Mayor Steve Reid, City Manager Massoud Ebrahim, Greenville ISD Superintendent Don Jefferies, GEUS Assistant General Manager Gary Singleton and more hosted a reception at the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum for “Project Clover,” which is when they all learned the company in question was Beretta.

Beretta President Jeff Reh was one of the officials making the visit.

“We had a couple of our buildings on display over there,” Sims said. “Their visit went very well.”

Beretta officials offered specifics at that time as to the raw materials, training and other requirements the company would be seeking if it chose to come to Greenville.

“They were impressed by what we had,” Sims said.

The company was so impressed that two days after the visit, on Sept. 27, Greenville was one of three cities in Texas which made the “short list” from the company, along with McKinney and Fort Worth.

But on Nov. 18, the Governor’s office notified Sims’ office that all of the sites in Texas had been eliminated from the company’s search. Sims said it was believed that South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky were still in the running.

As of last week, Beretta had not announced a final choice for the facility, but South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on Thursday a picture of the Beretta PX4 Storm she got as a present from her husband.

Sims said it was unfortunate that Greenville did not get the plant, but it was encouraging to have come so close and to know that so many of the city’s top officials can be mobilized so quickly.

“It was really good for us,” Sims said. “If Texas had a shot at this, we had a real serious shot.”

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