In recent years, the Flathead Valley has become a hotbed for firearm manufacturing, with several companies known for their rifles, their barrels, and their quality craftsmanship.
Now, U.S. Optics, a newcomer to the valley’s firearms market, would like to take part, uprooting the business from California to bring it to Kalispell, where it will continue building high-end scopes for hunting, sporting, and military customers.
It’s a big shift for the company. Earlier this year, in June, Down Range Solutions Group announced its purchase of U.S. Optics, which has been building custom riflescopes and optics for more than 26 years.
Arnold VonBargen, a former owner at U.S. Optics, said once he met and worked with Tanner Ford, now operations manager for the company, and Kevin Peterson, now chief operations officer, the idea of moving the company to Montana made sense.
“I can’t speak enough about working with those two guys in California,” VonBargen said in an interview with the Beacon.
Peterson, who previously worked at Sonju Industrial and Falkor Defense as the quality director and director of operations, said he arrived in Southern California as U.S. Optics was considering a move with interest in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.
“My goal was to bring it to Kalispell, Montana,” Peterson said.
When the owners decided on the relocation, the company began working with the Montana Governor’s Office of Economic Development to find a new location. The GOED got in touch with Montana West Economic Development in Kalispell, and MWED made in-roads with consultant Dev Warren, the CEO of Ascendant Advisory Group, to assist with the move.
MWED is also helping the company secure additional funding through grants via the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund to build up the workforce at the company’s location south of Kalispell.
In early September, Peterson hired the first Kalispell employee to U.S. Optics, having brought eight employees from California for the move. Since then, the company has hired 14 more people locally, bringing the total to 23.
“We’re running right at 23 right now,” Peterson said, “and we’re looking at doing another hire here in a couple of months.”
Peterson expects major growth at the company, post-relocation. He said the goal is to grow the company by 100 percent in the next year, and 50 percent every year after that.
Business is booming. U.S. Optics sells to the military, but largely, their customer base is made up of long-range shooters — both hobbyists and professionals — as well as hunters. The scopes run in the high-end of the price range, with models priced at $1,699 and up.
As the business grows, Peterson said he expected he would add more employees, and more scopes equates to more people building them, he said.
“We’re also working to hire veterans,” Peterson, whose own background includes 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, said.
Of the 23 people already working at U.S. Optics, seven or eight of them are veterans, he said.
The company held an open house for the public on Nov. 17, hoping to bring in local folks to introduce them to a new neighbor hoping to continue business in the Flathead Valley.
Peterson said the optics industry typically follows the ebbs and flows of the firearms industry; when there’s a major uptick in gun sales, those people buy firearms, and then decide they need the accessories.
“Once (the rush to purchase firearms is) over and everyone’s got their guns, then the accessories market does well,” he said.
For more information on U.S. Optics, visit www.usoptics.com or call (406) 300-4090.