The relieved owners of the first new manufacturing business in a decade to pick Payson as a place to set up shop took out their permits this week.
Advanced Tactical Armament Concepts (ATAC) will convert an empty hangar and machine shop near the Payson Airport into a plant to make about 30 million cartridges a year — mostly ammunition they’ll sell to police.
The start-up business hopes to be turning out 30 million cartridges annually starting in about a month, according to Jim Antich, head of a partnership that includes one of the world’s best pistol shooters, a former special forces expert and an aeronautical engineer.
The ATAC partners took pains to stress that the smokeless propellants the company will use to make ammunition poses much less danger of explosion than a residential propane tank or the paint aisle at Walmart.
Nonetheless, the backers of the new business spent months convincing fire and building officials to let them convert an empty hangar alongside the airport into a cartridge-manufacturing business. The company provided one vivid demonstration in which they set off a pallet of the smokeless propellant that has taken the place of old-fashioned gunpowder. The pile of propellant merely smoked and sparked. The slow-burning substance won’t generate heat fast enough to explode unless tightly confined — as in the barrel of a gun.
Antich said personal and family connections convinced him to consider Payson as the location for a manufacturing business that will start off with a dozen employees, but hopefully will grow to maybe 50 in the next several years.
He said business friends in the Valley advised him to avoid Payson because of the anti-growth attitude and regulatory hurdles, but that Town Manager Debra Galbraith, Mayor Kenny Evans and Vice Mayor Mike Vogel worked hard for months to get the necessary permits.
“We had an ally” in town government, said Antich. “We had people working to help us get here. I suspect that three or four years ago, we would have been in the door and left.”
Mayor Evans said town officials are in discussion with five or six other potential manufacturers, hoping to lure them to town as well. Evans said council members have been working directly with those businesses, trying to counter the town’s anti-business image and create a more stable, diversified economic base.
“We’ve got a total of six very serious proposals,” said Evans, in addition to plans to build a four-year college campus in town. “What we’re doing is trying to find businesses that fit and will not have the shock factor effect on the community. So having this first one come in the door is a big deal. Payson has been known as anti-business and we’re undoing that perception — by bending over backwards to bring these new businesses to town.”
The ammunition manufacturing plant will sit in the midst of the new, expanded manufacturing zone around the airport. The area represents one of the last sections of town with large tracts of open land and light industrial zoning.
Antich said he hopes to get into production as soon as possible to take care of a pervasive shortage in ammunition nationwide, which started with a binge of near panic-buying of ammunition fueled apparently by fears that the Obama administration would crack down on gun ownership. For more than a year, sporting goods stores would sell out of bullets almost as fast as they could get shipments in. Although the Payson plant’s 30-million-cartridge output sounds impressive, it’s dwarfed by the billions of rounds of ammunition sold annually in the U.S. just to the military.
The unusual partnership that formed Advanced Tactical Armament Concepts hopes to take advantage of that trend, although none of the partners have previously manufactured ammunition.
Jim Antich is a career airline pilot and former Navy flier, with a penchant for starting businesses — mostly construction and commercial ventures in the Valley.
His son, Jeff Antich, is an aeronautical engineer who made jet engines for the F-22 for much of his career, before getting into the ammunition business with his dad.
The group’s primary Payson connection comes from the involvement of Matt McLearn, one of the best marksmen on the planet who has a custom gun-building business in Payson. McLearn is a world champion in the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC), in which marksmen compete with pistols and revolvers as they move through a course strewn with targets, with their score depending on both speed and accuracy.
The fourth partner, Lance Pierson, is a former Army Special Forces trainer and now a security consultant. Pierson is on a consulting job in Indonesia, providing security advice in the wake of a deadly terrorist bombing.
The group originally focused on Payson based on family connections, since former Payson High School wrestling coach and Roundup outdoor columnist Dennis Pirch is Antich’s brother-in-law.
The group will initially set up two machines, each with an operating staff of four, to combine the propellant, projectile cartridge and casing into cartridges as soon as possible. Over the next year or two, they hope to add five more machines to the existing site.
They hope to develop a niche clientele with police agencies to provide a steady supply of high-quality ammunition in a business dominated by a few monster companies whose output is dominated by the military.
Ultimately, the group hopes to buy another, larger property and expand to perhaps 50 machines. In addition, they hope to eventually establish a gun manufacturing business, also in Payson.
For the initial operation, the group picked an existing site already zoned for manufacturing uses. That required an array of approvals by the town’s planning staff and fire marshal, but no public hearings and no vote of the planning commission or the council.
Antich said the group faced many delays and problems, especially when it came to convincing the fire marshal that the smokeless propellant used wouldn’t cause a big explosion even if the whole plant burned down.
Vogel, Evans and Galbraith worked constantly to remove barriers in the course of the four-month process, said Antich.
“We found a management willing to bend over backwards,” said Antich. That ultimately convinced the group to locate in Payson instead of several alternative sites in Nevada — and even Scottsdale.
McLearn, a longtime Payson resident who gives shooting lessons at the Payson shooting range, said his new business partners will fit right into Payson.
“We’ll have to just get them a pair of cowboy boots,” he joked.