By Stephen Gruber-Miller
Starting next fall, Grinnell will be home to a new branch of the world’s largest supplier of firearm accessories and tools. The Montezuma-based company, Brownells, whose products include ammunition, optics, gunsmith supplies and other parts, broke ground on an office complex and warehouse last fall, after about two years of planning. The facility is scheduled to open this fall.
The 200,000 square foot project will serve as Brownells’ main distribution center and will be located just off the I-80 interchange south of town. The facility will also contain a small retail outlet to serve and assist customers.
The city of Grinnell has been eager to attract Brownells as a key player in helping to expand Grinnell’s job opportunities and housing market. In an email to the S&B, Brownells CEO Pete Brownell said that he expects the facility will create between 150 and 200 jobs over the next three years.
A Revitalize Iowa’s Sound Economy (RISE) grant application for project funding, submitted by Grinnell to the Iowa Department of Transportation in May 2012, projected that Brownells would add more than 200 additional jobs over the years, culminating in a major expansion to a 500,000 square foot Grinnell facility in 10 to 15 years.
Brownell, who lives in Grinnell, also stressed the company’s emphasis on hiring locally for these jobs. He explained that choosing Grinnell was a great way to strengthen the company’s presence in the state.
“Our business is best reflected in the honest, open and hardworking people we have right here in Grinnell,” Brownell wrote.
Brownells chose Grinnell after considering other Iowa locations in Des Moines, Ankeny and Montezuma, as well as one out-of-state location in Missouri, Brownell wrote. He noted that the proximity to I-80 was a factor in choosing Grinnell.
Grinnell City Manager Russ Behrens expressed his enthusiasm for Brownells’ predicted economic impact.
“We are especially excited about the potential of this project to serve as a catalyst for further development of the interstate exchange which has been a longtime community priority,” he wrote in an email.
Brownell explained that Grinnell needed an “anchor facility” to enable development along the interstate.
“Our warehouse and office investment was the missing piece to initiate the city’s interchange plan for economic development,” he wrote.
City outreach was another factor in drawing Brownells to Grinnell, said Angela Harrington, President and CEO of the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Their major concern about relocating to Grinnell was the ability to find [a] workforce,” she said.
According to Harrington, Grinnell conducted research to learn more about the town’s workforce and what would be necessary to attract Brownells.
“The city really reached out to them,” she said.
The main issue was Grinnell’s lack of housing, but Harrington realized that Brownells provided an opportunity for the city.
“That project really fired up our housing initiative,” she said.
It turns out that more than 2,600 people commute into Grinnell for work every day. Harrington wants to change that number, so that more people who are employed in Grinnell live in Grinnell.
“Housing is a difficult thing to do in rural cities,” Harrington said.
She explained that the new Brownells facility will allow Grinnell to acquire a greater number of houses, both for sale and for rent.
“All of a sudden, Grinnell is sitting on a major opportunity, the biggest opportunity in its history, probably, to grow,” Harrington said.
She explained that Grinnell’s economy has been successful during the recession with far higher job growth than other similarly sized towns in Iowa. This success, she said, is due to the diversity of Grinnell’s employers, to which Brownells will add.
Harrington and Behrens also praised Brownells’ positive presence in the community, noting in particular that Pete Brownell, as well as his father and former Brownells CEO Frank Brownell, have given to many public institutions and non-profits in both Montezuma and Grinnell.
“Our community has benefited not only from the economic impact of their business, but from their philanthropic generosity and benevolent investments,” Behrens said.
In addition to local giving, according to a Huffington Post article published in January, Brownells has also donated between $1 million and $4.9 million to the NRA since 2005, where Pete Brownell sits as a board member. According to the Des Moines Register, however, Brownells’ NRA donations have gone exclusively towards safety training and educational purposes since 1991.
Despite the recent national debate over gun control, Brownells’ business has remained strong.
Community support for the Brownells project has been unanimous, according to Harrington, due in large part to the Brownell family’s history as a positive influence in their community.
“We all know them,” she said. “We know that they will act responsibly.”