Recently, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter has made uninformed, public comments about Gov. Butch Otter's efforts to recruit firearm and ammunition manufacturers to Idaho and about the industry, itself. As a former governor's office staffer who saw firsthand the effort required to recruit businesses to Idaho, and now as a co-owner of a firearms manufacturing and distribution business, I am happy to provide a different perspective on this issue.
This may be the first time a politician has ever categorized the recruitment of manufacturing jobs to his state as a "race to the bottom."
In fact, in my experience, manufacturers and manufacturing jobs are the most important building blocks of any state's economic development strategy. Manufacturers, especially firearms manufacturers, require highly skilled engineers, machinists, and assembly staffs to design, build, and construct their products. Firearms are entirely assembled by hand, requiring the "labor" to be performed by highly trained and skilled craftsmen.
Because of the sheer number of precision parts that are required to produce today's advanced firearms, many manufacturers use skilled, local machine shops, mold makers, and coating companies to produce the finished parts necessary to construct their firearms. In the case of the firearms companies where I have direct involvement, we use several local vendors to produce dozens of intricate parts, made by highly advanced machines and operated by skilled machinists.
Firearms manufacturers and their suppliers make significant investments into facilities, capital equipment, and staff. These are simply not low-paying jobs in an unskilled industry.
The fact Otter emphasizes Idaho's low cost of doing business in his letter to manufacturers reflects his understanding of how businesses make decisions. Businesses look for the right balance of lower operating costs, access to a skilled workforce, and quality of life when making decisions about relocation. In my view, being able to promote all three factors as advantages to moving to Idaho only helps us grow higher-paying jobs.
For Idaho's firearm and ammunition industry to continue to grow and thrive, the economic opportunity presented to manufacturers must be matched by political leadership and support.
In our experience, Otter, the Idaho Legislature, and the departments of Commerce and Labor are taking the necessary steps to encourage new investment in Idaho, including their support of growing Idaho-based manufacturers.
Being more than a casual political observer, it is obvious to me, as it should be to most others, that the mayor's attacks on the governor are the first shots fired in his not-yet-announced run for governor.
Instead of "soft launching" his campaign for higher office by criticizing Otter for his efforts to recruit firearms and ammunition manufacturers to Idaho, Bieter should take a look around at the firearms and ammunition manufacturers growing and expanding in his own city and then ask, "How can I help?"
David Lehman is a co-owner of GSA Direct, a Boise-based distributor of firearms and accessories, and MILTAC Industries, a firearms manufacturer, also located in Boise. Lehman served as policy director and senior advisor to Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne.