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Few details emerging on Remington expansion

While the announcement of plans to expand the facilities of the Remington plant at Lonoke is welcome news for the area, the company is careful to keep details to a minimum. Lonoke plant manager Jim Grahlmann spoke at the June 6 Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce meeting about the expansion but shared few details.

The Remington Lonoke plant, on Arkansas Highway 15 at the interchange with Interstate 40, with more than 1,200 employees, is the major commercial employer in Lonoke County.

News of the expansion came only weeks after start of construction to add a new Interstate 40 interchange with Arkansas Highway 89 at Lonoke, a few miles east of the plant. City and business leaders of Lonoke had worked since the early 1990s for a new interchange to open access to the city’s industrial area.

Remington said it expects to spend $32 million on the expansion, which would include the construction of a new building. Work is expected to begin during the second quarter of 2013, with the new expanded operation completed and running by the second quarter of 2014.

Grahlmann, in his remarks at the Chamber meeting, said he wanted to update the area on what has been happening at the plant in the past 18 months. “There has been a lot going on and, frankly, we just really have not taken the time to come and share with everyone,” he said.

He reviewed Remington’s history. Founded in 1860, “It is one of the longest continuously operating manufacturing companies in the United States,” Grahlmann said. Though primarily in firearms and ammunition, for a time the company also made typewriters and cash registers, he said.

As a manufacturer, Remington is one of the few who produce both firearms and ammunition, Grahlmann said. “Most do only one or the other,” he said.

In ammunition, the demand on the company is “absolutely unprecedented,” Grahlmann said. “I’ve got backorders over two years … And that is just Remington,” he added.

“For conspiracy-minded folks, who think the government’s buying [ammunition] all up … I don’t believe it. Most of my product goes to the retail, commercial market,” Grahlmann said.

Some of the demand is to law enforcement, but very little is to the government; though he could not speak about other manufacturers, Grahlmann said.

Remington planners saw the demand coming and began planning last year to expand facilities and production, Grahlmann said.

“We spent about $500 million last year, upgrading and increasing the speed of some of our machines,” Grahlmann said. “The consequences of that is that we added about 125 employees…” he said.

The plant is now making more ammunition than was ever contemplated for it, and most areas of the plant are operating at record levels, much of it using machines dating from the 1930s, Grahlman said. Regardless of the upgrades, it is still on 70- to 80-year-old machines, he said.

“We are going to go into new technology,” Grahlmann said of the planned expansion. “There are more effective ways to do things.”

The expansion will include a new, 35,000 square-foot plant, located south of the existing plant, Grahlmann said. It, too, will be expandable, he added.

There will be new skills required, Grahlmann said. As computer-aided design becomes more complicated, there comes a need for more skilled employees, he said.

“You probably want to know what the product is, so does the competition,” Grahlmann said. “I am in no hurry for them to find what we are doing there,” he said.

“That is why I really cannot tell you what it is we are going to manufacture,” he said. “We are trying to hold that off for obvious reasons,” Grahlmann remarked.

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