Over the past few years, South Dakota has lured a number of small firearms factories, thanks to low taxes, minimal regulations and gun-friendly residents. While standing outside of the Bruce Bowen Company in Sturgis, I could see no less than five other businesses nearby that were engaged in gun manufacturing.
“We’re looking for more 12 month businesses,” Bruce Bowen said. Bruce is a member of the Future Sturgis organization and one of a growing firearms manufacturing industry that is hot right now in the area. Eight firearms companies call the town home, employing more than 120 workers in what the city estimates is a $3.8-million-a-year local industry. Five of the companies have moved to Sturgis since 2000.
Bruce makes a high-end line of shotguns for trap shooters. And, they are exceptional firearms. Each gun is made of high grade steel alloys and a select set of American or English Walnut. The steel is machined in their Sturgis facility to exact specifications, heat treated for maximum strength and durability, then fitted and polished to a fine luster. Their stocks are finished by hand and each stock is custom fitted.
The have to produce an exceptional product to be of any value to their customers. “The sport we serve is a ‘miss and out’ sport,” says Bowen. The events are typically 100 or 200 targets and if you miss, you’re not going to win. You have to break a perfect score.” Their market is made up of the estimated 38,000 trap shooters nationwide.
He moved the company to Sturgis from Nebraska. Their 8000 sq. ft. factory houses an indoor shooting and testing range to ensure the accuracy of every firearm. They had engineering students come from a nearby college to help them design a tracking system to aid them in making the guns even more accurate.
He and his wife also have a side business, called 100 Straight Products, that distributes trap-shooting accessories. “They have a wonderful economic-development program here, and they actually recruit gun businesses,” Bowen said. South Dakota has sought to bring firearms manufacturers to the state since the late 1980s, in part by offering 3 percent loans for job-creating business ventures. So does the city of Sturgis.
South Dakota was the first state to pass a law protecting gun companies from lawsuits. Small businesses also like South Dakota’s tax policy. The state doesn’t tax corporate income, personal income, personal property, business inventory or inheritances.
Some of Bowen’s guns can run upwards of $40,000, complete with stocks carved from 400 year old trees and custom engraving. It’s a brand that is well represented among his customers. And they go out of their way to insure their customers’ satisfaction. “We have a joke around here that people can’t take ‘Yes’ for an answer.” Bowen laughed. “We had a gentleman who bought one of our guns and dropped it the first day he had it on the concrete. We took care of that problem.”
It seems so understated to hear Bowen talk about it, but if I learned one thing in my travels through South Dakota, is there’s an awful lot of “straight-shooting” going on.