AYNOR, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's welcome to Connecticut gun maker PTR Industries on Monday was as much a gathering to celebrate the second amendment as to celebrate more than 100 new jobs coming to the tiny town of Aynor.
PTR Industries decided to move from its home in Bristol, Conn., after that state passed stricter gun laws in April in response to the killings of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The firm's CEO and co-owner Josh Fiorini said he had to choose between his home and his business after lawmakers backed him into a corner by choosing to make easy political points. He said his company's entire line of rifles is now illegal under Connecticut's new gun laws.
"God bless America, where a company like ours is free to move to greener pastures," Fiorini said.
PTR Industries plans to double its production, adding about 100 employees to the 50 who already work for the plant in Bristol. Many of those workers plan to move south too, Fiorini said.
The company is moving into an empty building just outside of Aynor, a town of around 650 people about 30 miles from Myrtle Beach. It hopes to open its new facility before the end of the year.
Fiorini publically discussed his desire to move after the new gun laws passed, and roughly 40 states came calling. Texas Gov. Rick Perry came to Connecticut himself to court gun makers. But South Carolina had already sent the wife of Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rice and state Rep. Alan Clemmons to meet with Fiorini, and he was impressed.
Throw in South Carolina's cheap land, cheap utilities, low taxes and inexpensive labor costs and Fiorini was sold.
"There is a lot of gun support here," Fiorini said. "And a lot of good people."
More than 100 people turned out to welcome PTR Industries at a ceremony Monday at Aynor Town Hall that opened with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Several of them wore pro-gun shirts or carried pro-gun signs. Clemmons threw hats into the crowd, turning it more into a carnival than an economic development announcement.
"Yes they are Connecticut Yankees. But they have decided to become South Carolina rebels," the Myrtle Beach Republican said.
Gov. Nikki Haley also attended, but she didn't talk about the second amendment, instead pointing out that the state's support of guns is just one of many pro-business factors that bring jobs to South Carolina.
"It's not about the product a company sells. It is about where they feel they can be profitable and successful," Haley said.
Clemmons did touch briefly on the shootings in Newtown, Conn., saying we all grieved with the people there. But he chastised Connecticut lawmakers for singling out guns as the problem.
"Our hearts bled with the parents, the teachers, the grandparents, the community at large that experienced such a great loss," Clemmons said "But then a second tragedy occurred — a tragedy our Founding Fathers would never have had."
Fiorini is preparing for a culture change. His family goes back several generations in Connecticut, and he was sweating heavily in the hot South Carolina sun Monday. But he said he is ready to embrace his new home. He said he knows he won't have to spend more than $10,000 plowing the snow off the parking lot of his new facility.
"I'm not sad any more. I am still angry," Fiorini said. "But mostly I am excited."
He was making plenty of friends. Barbara Powell was waiting to introduce herself to Fiorini. She moved to the area from New Jersey 24 years ago and was wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a gun and a pile of shells that read: "Before I surrender my guns, may I die in a pile of brass." She had a pair of pistol earrings to match.
"I am so glad I moved down here," Powell said. "All they care about up there is keeping you from being free,"
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