It’s a Small World

I came across this story that details the relocation and expansion of Knight’s Armaments manufacturing facilities from Vero Beach, FL to my old hometown of Titusville.

Weapons maker to stir up lackluster economy in N. Brevard

Company to use former Tomahawk missile plant in Titusville, creating up to 450 jobs

Interesting. An “assault weapon” manufacturer bringing jobs to a community. Imagine that.

C. Reed Knight Jr. realizes there’s a dark side to his business.

Beginning in January, his factory, the former McDonnell-Douglas Tomahawk missile plant south of Titusville, will make powerful guns and firearms accessories for the nation’s military, including some top-of-the-line weaponry for U.S. and allied special forces.

Knight reasons his lethal products are used for a good purpose — to defend the nation’s interests against terrorists and other foes.

“What we do for a living is very serious,” he said. “We do build equipment that takes people’s lives, but a lot less than the Tomahawk missiles that were built here. We selectively take out people, and they do it through mass destruction.”

Oh, please. Spare me the PC apologies.

Currently, Knight has about 110 employees at the plant, but plans to increase that up to as many as 250 in January and to 450 “as soon as possible” after production begins. The reopening of the plant is expected to provide a boost to the Titusville area’s lackluster economy.

Knight’s company — Knight Enterprises LLC, and its contracting arm, Knight’s Armament Co. — is the final stages of preparing the building for operation.

Because of the nature of his work, Knight, a former fourth-generation citrus farmer-turned-federal contractor, is guarded when discussing details about his business.

Knight has been gradually relocating his company from Vero Beach, where it has operated for years out of a 60,000-square-foot facility. Last year, Knight announced he would move his firm to the 625,000-square-foot former missile plant after reaching an agreement to buy it from The Boeing Co., which acquired McDonnell-Douglas after the plant closed in 1995.

I assume this means that Knight’s believes the AW ban will sunset?

Knight indicated federal officials took an interest in his company’s move and expansion to support the U.S. “war on terror” in the Persian Gulf region triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

State and Brevard County officials also sweetened the deal by providing Knight with more than $1.7 million in tax breaks and incentives to move into the former missile plant.

Horrors! Tax breaks to manufacturers of “bullet hoses!”

Within the gun-manufacturing industry, Knight’s company is known for its superior firearms, said Gary Mehalik, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for gun manufacturers.

“They make some specialized products,” Mehalik said. “Their business is in the same class as the M-16 (assault rifle), but they specialize in more-accurate, long-range applications that are sought-after by people who compete in target-shooting matches. They’re also very valuable for special forces in the Afghan/Iraq campaign.”

Knight’s firearms’ long-range capabilities are in demand in a desert war, where the fighting usually is more spread out than “in the confines of a jungle war,” Mehalik said.

One thing Titusville-area community leaders like about Knight’s business is the roughly 450 manufacturing jobs he plans to bring to this north Brevard County city. Knight estimates the jobs will pay an average of more than $34,000 a year.

The Titusville area hasn’t had much to cheer about in terms of economic development since the recession of 2001. The area also has lacked the robust population growth of south Brevard County.

Before the refurbished plant has produced its first gun, Knight has become somewhat of the toast of the local business community. That’s mainly because he’s breathing new life into the former Tomahawk plant, which was vacant for about seven years.

Not only did the Titusville area lose more than 1,200 jobs when McDonnell-Douglas closed the facility, the empty building came to symbolize the area’s past glory days and present doldrums.

Tidyville was pretty much wiped out in 1974 after the Apollo/Saturn V program came to an end, too. That’s when I was living there. Once they launched Skylab, that was pretty much it, and the major aerospace contractors pulled out. But it was a nice place to grow up.

“We consider them a big part of the community,” Titusville City Manager Tom Harmer said about Knight’s company.

“They’ve brought a lot of adrenaline to this community,” Harmer said. “A lot of people were waiting for the plant to be filled. It’s good to see them getting their operation up and running.”

The plant is in an unincorporated area of Brevard County, just south of Titusville. But the city may annex the 450-acre site into Titusville, Harmer said.

Walt Johnson, executive director of Titusville’s Space Coast Economic Development Commission, said he sees “a psychological” benefit for North Brevard by having the plant occupied again.

I cannot help but wonder if the plant will draw a protest rally from gun control groups. Nah, probably not.

Also, the more than 400 jobs at the plant will have economic “ripple effects” — from local spending by those who work at the plant to related businesses that may see opportunity, he said.

“Other businesses may move here because they have some synergy” with Knight’s company, Johnson said.

In all, Knight planned to spend a total of $20 million to buy the plant, renovate it and put in the gun-manufacturing equipment.

“We should see steady growth,” Knight said, “if homeland security and the military continue to grow.”

And the AW ban sunsets…

Meanwhile, Knight has about 125 people working for him in Vero Beach. That number will drop to 20 to 25 when the Titusville plant opens.

Knight said many of his Vero Beach workers will be working in Titusville, along with people he has been hiring from Brevard County. Machinists and other manufacturing jobs will pay between $7.50 and $20 an hour, he said.

The new plant will start production about a year behind Knight’s original schedule. That’s because he had to focus his resources in Vero Beach when his company received a $12 million contract last year to produce weapons for the Marine Corps. Knight said the contract was tied to the U.S. military campaign in the Persian Gulf region.

He said the Marines needed a lot of weapons fast, and the Vero Beach facility was the only way to meet the demand because the Titusville plant was far from ready. So Knight has kept his Vero Beach facility running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, this year to fulfill the contract.

He’s also been busing workers between Vero Beach and Titusville for training and other job assignments while the company is in transition.

Some of the first business the new plant will handle will be producing Mark 11 sniper rifles for the Navy and “modular weapons systems” for the Army, Knight said.

His company will occupy about half of the plant. Knight is considering whether to lease the remaining space to other companies, which would bring even more jobs to the site.

So far, Knight said he only has had “discussions” with other companies about leasing the empty space. He said potential tenants preferably would be “compatible” with his company, although not necessarily into weapons manufacturing.

“I was very impressed by what they’re doing there,” said Bill Ellis, chairman of the Rockledge-based Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. “I think it’s an industry with a great future in North Brevard, with all the terrorism we have in the world.” Knight Enterprises LLC

Remember when “gun manufacturer” didn’t have overtones of “evil baby-killer?”

Here’s Knight’s homepage: http://www.knightsarmament.com/

Knight’s makes .223, .308, and .50 BMG gas-operated semi-auto rifles. According to the VPC’s compilation of manufacturing data, Knight’s hasn’t made many rifles: a high of 2,500 in 1993 and a low of 150 in 1996. Only 996 in 1999. I must assume that those numbers don’t reflect military-contract weapons, as those kinds of sales won’t support 100+ employees unless they were all the SR-25 Mark 11 Mod 0 Navy contract sniper rifle at $8,000 a pop.

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