- Associated Press - Thursday, May 24, 2012

POTLATCH, IDAHO — This small community in the forested, western foothills of the Rocky Mountains was created as a company town to house workers for the nation’s largest white pine sawmill, and its tidy homes and straight, tree-lined streets are a testament to its planners.

But the town has slumbered since the Potlatch Lumber Co. mill closed in 1981. It was searching for an economic savior when an ammunition maker decided last year to move its operations from the liberal Seattle area to this more conservative region.

The move by PNW Arms was like a signal flare to business and political leaders in the town of 800 people, who were in the process of trying to determine what industry would be best to pursue.

“We were in the middle of doing our marketing plan at the time and decided that firearms is the niche we would recommend,” said Gary White of Kennewick, Wash., a business marketing consultant who is helping develop the town’s pitch to gun makers.

Potlatch, they decided, would go from timber town to gun town. It would try to lure firearms and ammunition makers, and plans also called for hunting-themed housing and retail development.

“It will help draw some out-of-towners and out-of-staters,” Mayor David Brown said.

Potlatch’s efforts piggyback on a national trend in which firearms-friendly states are trying to pry gun and ammo makers out of the Midwest and Northeast, where some states have more restrictive gun laws.

The Idaho Department of Commerce is making firearms manufacturers a recruiting priority. The state recently passed a law that protects firearms makers from liability lawsuits or excessive regulation, Mr. White said.

“Lots of states are anti-firearms states,” he said. “That is what Idaho is playing against, positioning itself as a firearms-friendly state.”

Firearms are a $3.8 billion industry that employs 90,000 people in the United States. The industry includes high-profile names such as Remington, Winchester, Smith & Wesson and Colt, but also more than 1,000 smaller companies.

“There are a number of states in the South and out West that have pitched to have companies relocate or start businesses in their states,” said Lawrence Keane, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the industry trade group.

South Dakota has had some success in luring companies, and states like Alabama, Montana, Idaho and Arizona have also rolled out the welcome mat, Mr. Keane said.

Many firearms companies have long been headquartered in states like Massachusetts and Connecticut, where the political climate has turned more hostile to firearms. Massachusetts, for example, has passed laws limiting the number of guns people can buy.

No such fears exist in Idaho.

“The regulatory environment in Idaho is friendly to guns and ammunition and we thought we could take this and run with it,” said B.J. Swanson, head of economic development for Latah County. “We’ve had two nibbles already and we haven’t even tried.”

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