"It costs more money to run a government-ready facility than it does to run a commercial facility," said Veilleux, who emphasizes that even the commercial versions are made to military specifications. "I hate to say it, but we think it's going well. We're a healthy business."
'Kind of Cramped'
At Stag Arms, 9 miles from Colt along the route of the busway construction project, the rifles come together in a quiet assembly room where, on a recent day, 10 people — most of them men from Poland — work as a team, picking parts from bright yellow bins.
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Slawek Ogomowski takes aim with each finished rifle, unloaded, of course, checking the scope. Nearby, another worker tightens screws into the main body of a rifle, known as the receiver, using a custom-outfitted tool that delivers the precise torque. It's one of many critical functions as the AR-15 comes together.
Stag, which makes 6,000 AR-15 rifles a month in several models, has an order backlog of more than a year — most of the orders placed well before the Newtown tragedy. The company has grown so fast that it's not organized with a clear work flow, as most factories are. One area is so crowded with a half-dozen large machines that it's hard to walk around easily.
"The aggressive growth has caused everything to be kind of cramped," Malkowski said. "We've been growing as a business year after year after year."
There's no big storage area for finished rifles because, he said, "Every rifle that's made is out the door the same day."
The company has four buildings, including the one occupied by the general machining firm owned by Malkowski's Polish immigrant father, Theodore. That firm now counts Stag as its biggest customer.
Malkowski, a New Britain native, went out on his own after designing a rifle to suit his needs. "I was shooting with my father since I was a kid and I found the right-eye-dominant to be very uncomfortable," he said. He financed the growth with few if any loans, investing profits back into the company. Today, left-eyed models account for about a quarter of sales.
Malkowski is proud of the fact that he's never had a layoff, and says he'd like to find one large location in New Britain, where many of his employees live. Soft-spoken and slight, the Sacred Heart University graduate is sensitive to criticism from gun-ban advocates who say companies like his have profited by aggressively marketing the AR-15 with military language and pictures. In fact, he said, the gun sells itself and he listens to his customers' ideas.
"We don't use war images," he said, pointing to framed ads on the walls that show hunting and target shooting — adding that the one picture with the word "tactical" in large letters was a gift from a photographer, not used for marketing.
His advantage, he said, comes not from marketing but from Connecticut's manufacturing culture.
"By making all these parts here locally, that's given us a huge advantage."