Specialty rifle manufacturer Weatherby Inc. — a Paso Robles mainstay for decades — has announced it is relocating to Sheridan, Wyoming.
The company, which also manufactures ammunition and shooting accessories, announced its departure to the Cowboy State on Tuesday at a gun industry trade show in Las Vegas, according to the Associated Press.
The company, located at 1605 Commerce Way, was founded in 1945 by Roy Weatherby, grandfather of current CEO Adam Weatherby. The company was founded in South Gate and moved to Atascadero in 1986 before settling into Paso Robles.
“We helped them do their project on Commerce Way in 1989,” North Coast Engineering’s Larry Werner said Wednesday.
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Werner serves as chairman of the economic development committee for the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.
“It’s very unfortunate to lose a long-established, highly respected business in Paso Robles,” he said.
Weatherby’s LinkedIn page lists the company as having between 51 and 200 employees, and the Associated Press reports that the company is expected to create 70 to 90 jobs in Sheridan, with more than $5 million in annual payroll over the next five years.
“We wanted a place where we could retain a great workforce, and where our employees could live an outdoor lifestyle,” Adam Weatherby said in a statement. “We wanted to move to a state where we can grow into our brand. Wyoming means new opportunities. We are not interested in maintaining; we are growing.”
The move came as the company was aggressively courted by the state of Wyoming, including a phone call from Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead.
Mead told the Casper, Wyoming, Star-Tribune that stricter gun laws in other states like California and Colorado have allowed Wyoming to “recruit some of these companies that may be not satisfied where they are.”
The newspaper also reported that the Wyoming State Loan and Investment Board has approved a $12.5 million grant to a Sheridan economic development organization to construct a building for Weatherby.
Mead told buckrail.com, a news website for Teton County, Wyoming, that Weatherby was a great fit for state: “As I said in my state of the state address last year: In Wyoming we don’t just want to be known as a firearm state, we want to be known as the firearm state.”
Adam Weatherby told buckrail.com that the company had been looking to relocate for the last three years and met with Mead a year ago at the same gun show.
“It was obvious from that meeting the state of Wyoming wanted us there. The governor gave me his cell phone number. He said, ‘We’re going to make you an offer you can’t refuse,’” Weatherby said. Weatherby took over from his father, Ed Weatherby, as CEO and president of the company last January, according to buckrail.com.
Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin said he understands Weatherby was given financial incentives to move, and the decision is not a reflection on the city. He said Paso Robles leaders will now “redouble our efforts at business development.”
“Obviously, the city of Paso Robles is sorry to see Weatherby go,” Martin said. “They’re a great business.”
Michael Manchak, president of the Economic Vitality Corp. of San Luis Obispo County, said it’s not the first time Wyoming has poached a company from California, and it won’t be the last.
“It’s a challenge to combat the attraction practices of other states when they have financial incentives in their arsenal that this state does not,” Manchak said.
Those incentives include a significantly smaller tax burden; Wyoming is one of nine states “that has little to no taxes,” he said.
Manchak said Sheridan also has a lower cost of living, with housing being significantly more affordable.
According to the EVC’s “Economic Dashboard,” specialized manufacturing such as Weatherby accounts for more than 3,600 jobs in the county, with an average annual wage of $57,246.
While the financial toll of losing a company like Weatherby likely won’t be known for some time, Manchak said the impact will be felt throughout San Luis Obispo County.
In addition to the loss of jobs, companies like Weatherby often make significant local charitable contributions and have employees involved in civic engagement.
“That’s really where people are going to see a loss,” Manchak said.
The loss also will affect “ancillary businesses,” he said, businesses that provide services to or benefit from Weatherby’s presence.
Manchak said that while it’s still possible for San Luis Obispo County to compete for businesses, it’ll require that the county and state become more competitive.
“I think the state will likely see more of this, unfortunately,” he said.
Werner said the city of Paso Robles is taking active steps to be more competitive, such as reducing water and sewer connection fees to encourage additional home-building.
“I have never seen Paso be so progressive in trying to promote business in the city. Business and housing,” Werner said.