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Missouri Community Looks for Economic Boost from Gun Plant

Widely embraced in the heavily Republican, gun-loving community of Boonville, CMMG is seeking a $200,000 forgivable loan to move its roughly 50 jobs from Fayette, about 15 miles to the northeast.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A quiet Missouri River community steeped in Civil War history and small-town charm is hoping that a gun-making plant can fill an economic void created by a decade of manufacturing job losses.

Widely embraced in the heavily Republican, gun-loving community of Boonville, which is just off Interstate 70 in central Missouri, CMMG is seeking a $200,000 forgivable loan to move its roughly 50 jobs from Fayette, about 15 miles to the northeast.

Opponents argue that a company that makes AR-15 semi-automatic rifles is bad for Boonville's long-cultivated image as a tourist destination. Those folks are a vocal minority, however, and the march continues toward CMMG's eventual move to the city, Boonville Economic Development Director Jim Gann said.

"Manufacturing jobs in a rural community are difficult to come by," he said.

Earlier this month, the Boonville City Council voted to transfer $500,000 to the local Industrial Development Authority, which wants to give CMMG a $200,000 forgivable loan.

CMMG's owners, who grew up and attended school in Boonville, approached the city about establishing its world headquarters there, Gann said. Because other towns also were wooing CMMG, Boonville had to come up with some kind of incentive to improve its chances.

CMMG wasn't eligible for state incentives because it wasn't moving from another state and it couldn't get local tax abatements because it wants to move into an existing building, Gann said.

In a June memo, Gann wrote that CMMG would bring more than 50 jobs that pay an average salary of $26.87 — nearly twice the average wage in the county. The company also pledged to invest $2.5 million into the building and equipment and would have an annual local economic impact of nearly $5 million, he said.

"We thought that the ($200,000) was justified, given the job creation in the community and the investment the company was going to be making in a building that truthfully doesn't have much marketability in a national sense," Gann said. "The building they have chosen, there are more than 120 substantially similar buildings across the state."

Mayor Julie Thacher acknowledged that the move won't necessarily create many new jobs in Boonville, since CMMG's current plant is less than half an hour away and most workers won't have to relocate. Still, those well-compensated employees will be dining, shopping and buying gas at local businesses, she said.

Susan Meadows, one of three City Council members who voted this month not to transfer money to the IDA, said the gun plant conflicts with the community's tourism image. There's also no reason for the general public to own semi-automatic rifles, she said.

"I am opposed to the AR-15 for moral reasons," Meadows said. "I don't think those types of weapons should be available for recreational purposes."

Boonville resident Mary Barile, who teaches theater at area colleges, criticized what she saw as secrecy in the process to land CMMG, including the decision to provide taxpayer money to a company whose products are so controversial.

"It's not a sock-making company that's coming and producing clothing," she said. "It's producing weapons."

Barile said it's galling that the recruiting effort was going on in the aftermath of last month's attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people died in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. As was the case in many of the most notorious mass shootings in recent years, including the attacks on a Connecticut elementary school and a Colorado movie theater, the Orlando attacker used a military-inspired weapon similar to the AR-15.

Thacher, who supports CMMG's move to Boonville, said the timing of the discussion was "really about as bad as it can get." But the city badly needs manufacturing jobs, she said, and a forgivable, benchmark-based loan from the economic development fund doesn't harm publicly funded institutions like tax abatements tend to do.

"A lot of the people against it are my friends," Thacher said. "These are difficult decisions and we need to just forge ahead."

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