How America’s Oldest Gun Maker Went Bankrupt: A Financial Engineering Mystery

When a secretive private equity firm bought Remington, sales were strong and the future bright. A decade later, the company couldn’t escape its debts. 

The news spread around Huntsville, Ala., in the winter of 2014. Remington, the country’s oldest gun maker, had decided to expand from its historic home in upstate New York to a gigantic former Chrysler factory near the airport. Workers at the new plant, the company said, would earn a minimum average of $19.50 an hour assembling shotguns, pistols, hunting rifles and AR-15-style semiautomatics. The city’s mayor wrote in a newspaper column that he was thrilled that Remington’s quest for a new factory space had ended in Huntsville. He calculated the typical annual salary as $42,500.

Huntsville is a boomtown in the Southern mold. The unemployment rate is lower than the country’s, and educated workers are in high demand. Southwest of downtown, in a facility that synthesized chemical weapons during World War II, the Army maintains a major research center and garrison. Orbiting the Army base are military and aerospace contractors: Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Car companies from Japan, an electronics manufacturer from Korea and many other concerns churn out goods for the domestic market. “Cutting taxes and simplifying regulations makes America the place to invest!” President Trump tweeted in January 2018; he was talking about Huntsville.

Since 1993, when the state gave Mercedes-Benz $253 million to build its first American auto plant in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama has refashioned itself as a kind of foundry for the rest of the country and the world, first courting automakers and then becoming an all-purpose workshop and technology hub. Airbus produces A320 jetliners; Toyota makes engines for Rav4s and Tundras; Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’s “spacefaring” company, recently broke ground on a rocket-engine plant. These companies are drawn here partly by the benefits that Trump cited, but most forcefully by the generous tax-incentive packages doled out by officials in Montgomery, the state capital, in concert with pro-business mayors.

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