Gun jobs fly south

Flathead Valley hunter and inventor Larry Butler has spent the past 12 years designing the one-of-a-kind recoil-taming XX12 shotgun. His company, the Whitefish-based Butler Arms USA, officially rolled out the final product in January. And now, that business is in the process of relocating to West Valley City, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City.

The move "was really based on making sure that we're going to be able to keep up with demand from a production standpoint," says Scott Smith, Butler Arms' vice president of marketing.

Butler Arms began considering a relocation to Utah in May, about six months after a group of Whitefish investors bought into Larry Butler's shotgun design. The company started hiring administrative staff earlier this year, following the unveiling of the XX12. Butler Arms initially planned to have those employees relocate to Montana, Smith says, but "as demand was growing, they realized we probably needed a broader production base. So before everyone was overly committed and settled [in Whitefish], they opted for West Valley City." Smith adds that production was minimal prior to the decision to relocate.

Butler Arms has so far relied primarily on a collection of separate machine shops to manufacture various components for its guns. Some of those manufacturers, such as Defiance Machine, are located in the Whitefish area. Smith says the Salt Lake City area—home to a long list of rifle and handgun manufacturers, as well as one of the nation's largest archery companies—offered closer proximity to more resources.

Butler Arms' corporate headquarters will remain in Whitefish. Butler Arms is also sponsoring a professional trap-shooting team that includes two Montanans, Ciaran O'Neill and Jason Lee. But as production of the XX12 ramps up on Oct. 20, the company will be taking the bulk of its employment out of state. Smith estimates Butler Arms currently has five employees in Montana and 17 in Utah.

"We expect to be at about 120 or 125 people sometime in the first quarter of 2013," Smith says. Most of those will be hired to Butler Arms' new production facility in West Valley City.

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