Huddled along the construction site in the Eldridge Industrial Park, Lewis Machine & Tool Co. celebrated the launch Friday of the company's new firearms manufacturing plant and headquarters.

Company leaders joined Eldridge city officials, Brandt Construction and other community representatives who braved the bone-chilling temperatures for the official ground-breaking ceremony. Construction on the $7.3 million, 75,000-square-foot building began in November.

Company president Karl Lewis said the new facility will not only double the size of its current Milan facility, but will allow the company to consolidate three separate locations its operates there.

"We had outgrown our facilities and by integrating into one building we'll see some efficiencies and economies of scale," said Lewis, who co-owns the company with Jim Jestel, chief operating officer, and Don Canada, vice president of manufacturing.

The project is being built by Milan-based Brandt Construction. It was designed by Landmark Engineering, Moline.

For Lewis Machine, the project represents more than four years of trying to relocate from its headquarters at 1305 11th St. W., Milan. The company first announced plans in 2013 to expand to west Davenport.

Jestel said the deal hit complications when the owner of the proposed site went through bankruptcy. But Lewis Machine also determined the site itself would not be the best fit for its expansion plans.

The new Eldridge facility will include a main facility of 60,000 square-feet with a 15,000 square-foot mezzanine, Lewis said. It will house production space for the small arms manufacturer as well as office space, warehousing and the company's own firearms testing range. Currently, it does its firearms testing at the Milan Gun Range or leases space at the Rock Island Arsenal, he added.

According to Lewis, the move will relocate its 150 employees and more jobs are expected as the company "grows its market share." 

"We're in a lull right now," Lewis said, pointing to the fact his customers are less fearful of losing their gun rights under the Trump Administration.

He applauded the state of Iowa and the city of Eldridge's efforts to assist in relocating it from Illinois. "We had a lot of support from then-Gov. Terry Branstad and now Gov. Kim Reynolds. The people of Eldridge have opened up their arms to us and really made a yeoman's effort to help get us here."

"For us, Iowa has a better climate," Lewis said. "The people are more receptive to the needs of business and Eldridge is still part of the Quad-Cities."

Jestel said the company received about $1 million in government assistance, including investment tax credits, a low interest loan and a forgivable loan from the state of Iowa. The city of Eldridge also is providing a tax abatement through its tax increment financing district. Among the assistance was $250,000 awarded in direct financial assistance last May from the Iowa Economic Development Board.

The company was founded in 1980 to provide weapons, components and modular weapon systems to the U.S. military, law enforcement and other government agencies. But it also sells weapons to foreign military services and commercial retailers in about 40 countries.

"We supply rifles to several NATO companies," Jestel said. He added that the global expansion began in in 2009 with a contract with the British military. "But it has really taken off in the last three years."

The new facility is expected to be completed in early spring.

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