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Please enter the email address and password used at registration. In some cases, multiple generations of men in the same family had worked on the line. If Press had every reason to send his client south, though, he lacked any special affection for Huntsville. For one thing, he explained to me, the airport had a shortage of worthwhile direct flights. For another, the technical labor pool was limited compared with those of larger cities. Press fine-tuned his list, disclosed the name of his client, and flew to Huntsville for a series of meetings, still skeptical.
They flipped their cards one by one. The Tennessee Valley Authority would provide discounted electricity. Press could scarcely believe his good fortune. In exchange for tens of millions in incentives, Remington had only to commit to a few terms, laid out in a fat document called a development agreement.
First, it had to hire enough employees every year so that, in , it would have a local work force of 1, All parties signed. Private-equity firms typically replace existing managers and install handpicked lieutenants. At Remington, George Kollitides was made chief executive in A Cerberus managing director until that year, Kollitides was a private-equity star and a fixture in New York philanthropy circles. He received his M. Kollitides declined to comment for this article.
Handsome and charming, he persuaded a number of sought-after executives to relocate to Huntsville. George convinced me that they had a dream in Huntsville, and I believed him. The dream was lofty and ambitious, and Huntsville was only a piece of it. Cerberus had been trying for years to assemble a dominant American gun company. First, in , it purchased Bushmaster, known for its ARstyle rifles.
In Ilion, where Remington has operated for years on the same site — unfinished weapons had to travel from one brick building to the next — people lost their jobs. There were layoffs at Montana Rifleman in Kalispell, Mont. The Advanced Armament Corporation, a manufacturer of suppressors and silencers, closed its plant in Georgia, and 68 people were let go from D. Panther Arms in St. Cloud, Minn. What remained was to increase profit margins by combining all these scattered production lines into a single megafactory.
As Chandler flew with Kollitides on the plane from New Hampshire, there was every indication that success awaited them below. Guns sales are driven by anti-gun rhetoric; a popular joke in the industry is that Barack Obama was the greatest gun salesman of all time. The numbers bear this out. The debt could conceivably have been explained by the cost of opening a new factory were it not for the fact that Remington got its factory free.
Last fall, a former Remington executive, who asked that his name not be used for fear of a backlash, opened the door to his house in Huntsville and beckoned me into his study, where we sat on either side of a fireplace. He was hired, the executive explained, as the plant was coming online, and he was tasked with wrangling together some scattered acquisitions. Executives were fired at a fast clip. Line employees came and went. Parts piled up on the factory floor.
Most worrying, Cerberus, which was trying to integrate disparate brands — the father-son pastoralism of Remington with the urban-militia aesthetic of AAC, for instance — seemed to him miserly when it came to marketing. Despite all this frenzy, he was certain that Cerberus had somehow made a great deal of money on Remington even before opening the Huntsville factory. It was obvious when the debt appeared, in I showed the filings to a professor of finance.
He said it looked as if Cerberus had wound up in debt to itself. I asked Gustavo Schwed, a professor of private equity at New York University who spent 24 years in the industry, to help me review the documents. Schwed pored over the many years of financial data and located two separate debt transactions, one of which was so esoteric I would never even have known to look for it.
Together, these transactions explained not just the mysterious loan but, indirectly, the way the deal finally unraveled.
In order to buy Remington, Cerberus, as most private-equity firms would, created a new entity, a holding company. Instead of Cerberus buying a gun company, Cerberus put money into the holding company, and the holding company bought Remington.
The entities were related but — and this was crucial — each could borrow money independently. Because this loan was risky — the lenders would be paid only if Remington made a lot of money or was sold — the holding company offered a generous interest rate of around 11 percent, much higher than a typical corporate loan.
When the interest payments were due, the holding company paid them not in cash but with paid-in-kind notes, that is, with more debt. These are known as PIK notes. Cerberus would keep that money no matter what.
These were garden-variety maneuvers in a private-equity buyout. In April , Cerberus did something fateful, which probably seemed smart at the time. There were plenty of sensible reasons to do this. Gun sales were high, and the debt that Remington took out was cheaper to service than the paid-in-kind debt.
But there was a catch. Because the operating company borrowed the money with a normal loan — and not with PIK notes — interest payments were required in cash. Suddenly Remington was carrying hundreds of millions of dollars in debt that, if it could not be paid, would cause the business to go bankrupt.
By the time the factory opened in Huntsville, the various players stood in vastly different positions. The private-equity firm had made back its initial investment and was playing with house money. And its workers, urgently, had to make a lot of guns. Huntsville is a de facto segregated city. Pastor T. Johnson, of St. He was unaware South Huntsville existed until some of his Army subordinates, who were white, bought homes there.
Unlike Birmingham and Mobile, there has never been a black mayor in Huntsville. Though blacks, like all Huntsvillians, paid the taxes that supported lucrative incentive packages, they seldom reaped the rewards of the best-paying jobs. This reality was of course not felt by whites, Johnson said. The Remington factory was housed in a gray building the size of 14 football fields set back behind fencing topped with razor wire.
Inside, the building was divided in half, the production line on the left and the administrative and engineering offices on the right, along with a classroom set up by the state agency that provides free worker training for private businesses.
Classes for new hires were held three days a week, every week. Johnson was disappointed but not surprised to learn from his parishioners that on the Remington line, the usual racial divisions manifested. Most of the line workers were black, whereas most of the managers and engineers were white. Though the company was supposed to be hiring hundreds of people, workers said that the line appeared suspiciously sparse.
Johnson, along with the president of the Huntsville N. The organizer arrived in Huntsville in He was born in Birmingham and spent most of his career organizing throughout the South.
But another obstacle surprised him. It seemed to Shanklin that in order to prevent unionization, the factory was exchanging its full-time workers for temps, who came and went rapidly, never sticking around long enough to have a stake. Remington declined to comment for this article. The presence of the temp workers, who were exempt from the minimum average hourly wage in the development agreement, also served as a cautionary tale, a reminder of how much lower you could sink if you raised trouble.
Full-time workers, for their part, were often unaware that the tax-incentive package might entitle them to higher wages than they were receiving. And when they did realize, they were unsure what to do. While I was in Huntsville, Remington employees told me that if they spoke to me for this article, they would be fired. It makes us feel they have something to hide.
But we keep our mouths shut. Clock in, clock out. I eventually met a former employee, who asked to be identified by her first initial, D. She was 43 and divorced and moved to Alabama more than a decade earlier from Michigan, along with her year-old son. After taking her two-week course at A.
She was assigned to a boxing station, which was not on an assembly line but at a static counter where the workers stood side by side. The job was boring. She received the guns — they were long guns, for hunting — placed them in boxes, then weighed the boxes on a digital scale.
If the scale displayed a red light, that meant D.