Just over a year ago, Tennessee officials, from state development authority officials to Governor Bill Haslam gathered in Alcoa, Tennessee to unveil a new business development project. A development project that politicians, business leaders and civic leaders were confident would be the first step in converting that Knoxville neighbor into the new gun valley.
I was there, and was more than happy to report a business event that was going to lead to several hundred million dollars in business development.
Now, it seems the entire HPR Ammunition narrative was less than whole cloth. It's too-early to say for certain, but when the litigation, federal investigations and other assorted inquiries are resolved, it may be that the entire deal was more wishful-thinking than business reality from the very beginning.
When Tennessee officials stood alongside HPR Ammunition owners on stage in Alcoa, Tennessee last October 20, no one involved on that side of the announcement had any there was significantly less there than met the eye.
Shortly before SHOT Show in January, rumors started circulating that HPR Ammo wasn't looking at expansion. In fact, it was struggling to survive. Chasing those rumors, I spoke directly with HPR owners and managers and was told, point-blank, that the company was fine, the deal was moving forward and construction would begin in 2016.
Yesterday, the Payson (AZ) Roundup
reported that HPR/ATAC had quietly sent employees home on September 13 and closed its doors.
According to that story, employees were told by the company's primary creditor that it had called all their loans and "everything was for sale."
That's not the story from Payson officials. The town's economic development specialist said "the Town of Payson is in contact with HPR and is working with them to get the facility back up and running."
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans told the Roundup
that he'd had a visit "from a financier who asked about HPR." At that time, Evans said, "He said they were financing a reorganization of the Payson operation and thought it would take 'a couple of weeks' to get the deal done."
So who to believe? No one's talking on the record, but there are plenty of questions remaining about what's happening with the company. Yesterday, I spent a significant amount of time trying to reach someone - anyone- affiliated with the company to give them the opportunity to tell their side of the story.
No one was available- or willing to talk- on or off the record. So the questions remain.
And as those questions are being asked, lawsuits and federal irregularities are coming to light that seem to indicate the ballyhooed expansion plans -even before the Tennessee announcement- were, at best, wishful thinking on the behalf of the owners. If that's the case, another adjective- fraud- might be an apt description of the whole expansion scheme.
At this point, there are far more questions than answers. But it's or certain that the State of Tennessee will be joining Arizona and federal officials who are trying to determine what's up with HPR.
Unlike most business stories, this isn't one I'm looking forward to seeing unfold. Regardless of the outcome, the credibility of the industry has been damaged, along with the lives of workers, creditors and even state and local officials in Arizona and Tennessee who wanted to believe.
But it goes with the job- and our promise- we'll keep you posted.