Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 7, 2013

W.Va. House Speaker’s effort to bring gun manufacturer to state gaining interest

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

CHARLESTON — House Speaker Rick Thompson’s campaign to lure a gun manufacturer into West Virginia and avoid firearms restrictions pending in Maryland is picking up steam.

While he is yet to hear from Beretta USA, the speaker says his idea has generated some interest by the administration.

Last week, Thompson sent Beretta’s executive vice president, Franco Beretta, a letter asking him to consider West Virginia as the firm’s new home, if he decides to pull up stakes and leave Maryland behind.

“I think the governor’s office has expressed some interest, too,” Thompson, D-Wayne, said Wednesday.

In addition, Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, wrote Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin a letter, passing on some ideas of his own.

“So, putting all that together, hopefully they’ll show some interest in Beretta,” the speaker said.

“I think it’s really a great thing if we can get that many jobs in West Virginia. It would be a good place for them. We’ve got the work force to do it. I think we can find a location for them.”

No sooner had Thompson disclosed his letter to Beretta than a resident in north-central West Virginia suggested a vacant warehouse in that region would be ideal.

Some 300 jobs are at stake, and Thompson said the firm needn’t fear any repressive gun legislation in the West Virginia Legislature.

“I think with your history, our record, that shows this is a friendly environment for their type of business,” he said.

“I think we’re the fifth highest in the country in gun ownership. Frankly, we could use the jobs. I encourage them to come to a place that would support them.”

Beretta is well known in gun circles. Besides producing pistols, rifles and shotguns for civilians, the firm also handles a number of defense contracts, the speaker noted, adding, “A lot of soldiers carry Beretta.”

Thompson pointed out that Ultra Light Arms has a West Virginia location, as does Douglas Barrels Inc., in Charleston.

The speaker said he isn’t sure what role, if any, the state Commerce Department intends to play, but hopefully the agency will be on board with the effort, “letting them know we’d love for them to come here.”

Thompson took the lead after learning the Maryland General Assembly is working on legislation that would ban so-called “assault weapons,” which Beretta manufactures.

“We’re not that far to try to speculate on that,” the speaker said, when asked if he had a specific location in West Virginia in mind.

“We have to see if they show some interest and how far they’d be willing to go and what they’re specific needs are. It’s just a question of what suits their needs, how big (a facility) they have to have and how many employees they have to have and how far they’re willing to locate, if they’re interested in coming to West Virginia.”

A number of bills are moving through this session, all geared toward shoring up Second Amendment rights in West Virginia.

Thompson sees his push to get Beretta as part of an overall plan to “get more aggressive” in bringing good-paying jobs to the state.

“I’m constantly looking for anything I can do to get more jobs and more businesses to either expand their existing business or relocate to West Virginia to start a new business,” the Wayne County lawmaker said.

“A lot of things we do are geared toward that. They may not say ‘jobs,’ but they’re all geared toward creating more jobs in West Virginia.”