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South Carolina woos Conn. gunmaker with personal touch

Published: Thursday, July 4, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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AYNOR, S.C. – When Connecticut gunmaker PTR Industries was trying to find a new home, CEO Josh Fiorini got offers from about 40 different states, many of them with similar terms and incentives.

But South Carolina won out, thanks to the state’s relentless efforts to woo the company and its personal touch.

It started when a state representative and the wife of a congressman hopped on a plane to Connecticut immediately after Fiorini let it be known he was ready to leave his home state because it passed stricter gun laws. It ended with a rally last week that brought in hundreds of people, many wearing T-shirts and hats supporting gun rights, thanking him for moving to Aynor, which is about 30 miles northwest of Myrtle Beach.

Fiorini was asked about the deciding factor for the move. “Frankly, the people,” he said. “Everybody here was so excited, so welcoming.”

It is a mantra heard plenty of times by executives that have decided to locate here. The state’s leaders are relentless and often use the personal touch to seal the deal. Plenty of them have talked about having Gov. Nikki Haley’s personal cellphone number.

Haley came to Aynor last week and waited in the hot summer sun to welcome Fiorini and PTR Industries. She told the crowd that South Carolina’s people are one of her best selling points.

“That’s the reason companies are coming. They feel taken care of when they come to South Carolina. You saw the crowd here. The people here are going to take care of the companies that come here. We support them, we thank them and we never forget,” Haley said.

The chase to get PTR Industries started when Wrenzie Rice, the wife of U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, saw an article where Fiorini said he was ready to move after Connecticut passed a new gun control law following the mass killings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Fiorini said the law made his company’s entire line of rifles illegal in the state where they were made.

Wrenzie Rice and state Rep. Alan Clemmons met with Fiorini and he was impressed enough to come to South Carolina. The Rices invited Fiorini and his family to meet with business officials at the couple’s oceanfront home in Myrtle Beach.

“The Fiorinis from Connecticut had a bottle of fine Kentucky bourbon with them,” Rice said. “And I believe the seeds were well sown by the time they left that day.”

Once Fiorini saw how the state would help them through the process to get all their permits and had a system in place to help train workers, he said he was ready to make the move.

Now South Carolina officials are hoping that personal touch will bring more gunmakers to the state. Executives from Stag Arms were in Horry County late last week and said they were deciding between South Carolina and Texas.

U.S. Rep Jeff Duncan said he is courting even more gun companies.

“We’re welcoming anyone who finds themselves in a hostile environment,” the congressman said.

Duncan sent a letter to several gunmakers in February, touting how much South Carolinians support gun rights.

“In South Carolina, we believe in the right to keep and bear arms. We believe in free enterprise. We believe in the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Duncan wrote. “Our state welcomes any individual or business who believes the same.”

And South Carolina now has a new member of the team ready to sell the state to businesses thinking about a new facility or relocating. Fiorini said he will tell anyone who wants to listen that South Carolina is a good place to do business.

“I think there is a very strong possibility that all of our cousins and suppliers will be following us out of state,” he said. “Maybe not tomorrow, but eventually.”

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