By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
If there’s one thing that unites most Wyomingites, it’s belief in the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
In Cody, one manufacturing company embodies that belief.
“Ground zero for firearms manufacturing,” is how Governor Mark Gordon described Gunwerks, a Cody company that is making its mark in the international gun trade.
The governor was in Cody Monday to celebrate the grand opening of the manufacturing company’s new 43,396-square-foot facility.
The building was completed in 2021, but the celebration of its opening had to be put on hold during the pandemic.
“We finally said, ‘Well, we better polish everything up and invite the whole world in,’” said Garrett Wall, director of customer experience for Gunwerks.
The open house is a days-long event, according to Wall, beginning Monday with remarks from the governor, Cody Mayor Matt Hall and the company’s president and founder, Aaron Davidson.
“Tuesday, we’ll have some of our customers and outfitters who we work with,” Wall told Cowboy State Daily. “They’ll be here doing some seminars. We’ll have dealers on Wednesday, and the media and writers from our industry will come in on Thursday.”
Gunwerks is a rising star in the highly competitive firearms manufacturing industry, specializing in weapons used for long-range shooting.
In his remarks, Gordon praised the company for its commitment to innovation, to the entrepreneurial spirit and to Wyoming.
“You not only said, ‘OK, I think we can make a rifle, but we can make the very best rifle that can shoot the straightest and longest anywhere in the world,’” he said. “You built an entire industry out of that – you had a TV show (“Long Range Pursuit”) to get people talking about this all over the world. And then you started making these guns here in Cody.
“Not only has he made a better rifle,” Gordon continued, “but now he’s got fantastic optics to go with that rifle. And now he’s got another vision, and another vision, and that’s what Wyoming is all about.”
Davidson, who started his company in a series of buildings in Burlington in rural Big Horn County, explained that in 2016, he and his team chose Cody as the home to their expanded operation.
“A couple of years ago we looked really, really hard at Wyoming as the place to be, and tried to gauge, can Gunwerks be successful and grow in scale here in this community,” he said. “We have some ties to Utah, we looked really hard at Bozeman (Montana) … and it wasn’t even close to Cody and the ties that we have to Cody.
And our people that we have here anchored us here, and we’re committed to being here and growing our business here and making awesome jobs for the people that come into our business,” he added.
“Wyoming Made A Good Bet”
In 2018, the company was approved for a $3 million loan and $3 million grant package from the Wyoming Business Council to create a state-of-the-art facility that would allow Gunwerks to manufacture rifles, optics and ammunition geared to the long-range firearms market.
“I am proud to say that Wyoming, I think, made a couple of really good bets here,” said Gordon. “You know, we were able to help with doing some of the things that small businesses need just to get that next notch higher.”
For their part of the loan agreement, Gunwerks promised to bring 75 full-time jobs to Cody’s economy – a goal that has been met, according to Davidson.
“We have 75 employees,” he said. “And we have a good portion of those employees working in the manufacturing facility. Nineteen of those people we have relocated to Cody from other places across the state, and other states across the country. So we do build a very diverse team, and we have built this community, with some new faces and some new people.”
“Nobody quite understands how much we’re doing back there,” Wall said. “You know, the operations they’re doing, you know, the machining that we’re doing. We are trying to bring every operation we can in-house… We get to engineer a system the way we want from the ground up, all the way through that end experience the customer gets in the field.”
The road has not been completely smooth, however. The company sued the construction company and design firm for its new building along with the economic development organization Forward Cody. The lawsuit alleged the companies and the organization failed to follow the building specifications outlined by Gunwerks.
That litigation is ongoing, although the firearms company’s attorney, Michael Labazzo, said that Gunwerks has no plans to move operations out of the completed building.
In anticipation of continued growth, Gunwerks recently purchased a 74,754 square-foot facility that had been vacated in 2019 by Cody Labs, a pharmaceutical company that ended operations and laid off all its employees after being in business for over 15 years.
Labazzo noted that the layout of the Cody Labs building would fit Gunwerks’ needs in a couple of areas.
“Our ammunition manufacturing division is limited in space here,” he said. “That (the Cody Labs building) would be an easy move, because of the way that building lays out. They have explosion-proof rooms, and so for fire safety, it would work over there.
“The other one is our optics division,” Labazzo continued, “because if you notice in the back of (this) building on the northwest side, we have clean space in there – we have special flooring, with a different air system, and that is limited in size also. And as our optics division grows, we’re running out of space. And because (Cody Labs) was a pharmaceutical manufacturing business, they have lots of clean space over there. They have hospital-grade air, they have their own water filtration system, so it’s not even city water.”
Local and state leaders who were in attendance at the open house Monday expressed confidence in the future of Gunwerks as a leader in the fireworks and optics industries.
“The beautiful building that they’ve built here, it’s really kind of built out this side of the town,” said Cody Mayor Matt Hall. “We’re just really grateful that they’re here, that they’ve set up shop here, that they’re local guys. And the entrepreneurial spirit that they’ve had to get to this point has been great, and so we’re hoping that they’re a good long term success for our community.”
“This is a really, really exciting time for not only this family, that has fulfilled the American dream, but they’ve done it in their own community, which is very rare,” said state Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody. “They’ve built a product, but they’ve also expanded a business like no other, and so as a legislator, I am super proud that they chose our county to do this and didn’t take their business anywhere else.”