Dignitaries, executives and others gathered Thursday at the Remington Arms Lonoke plant to mark beginning of construction of a $32 million expansion, and welcomed the additional jobs the company will be creating in the area and state.

Gov. Mike Beebe, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and Freedom Group CEO George Kollitides spoke at the ceremony; Freedom Group COO Kevin Miniard, and board of directors members Jim Pike and Bobby Brown took part in the groundbreaking.

Freedom Group is a firearms and ammunition designer and manufacturer operating as Remington, Bushmaster Firearms, Marlin and other companies.

The Remington Lonoke plant, on Arkansas Highway 15 at the interchange with Interstate 40, with more than 1,200 employees, is the major commercial employer in Lonoke County.

Lonoke plant manager Jim Grahlmann acted as master of ceremony for the event.

As many Remington employees as could be spared joined the ceremony, Grahlmann said. “But we like to make ammunition here, so we could not shut down and invite everybody.”

Kollitides said the day, “Is really about Lonoke, it is about the people here, it is about the great workforce we have here, it is about the great support that we have gotten for our representatives here and the Chamber of Commerce.”

“We have been building ammunition [at Lonoke] since 1969 … This has been an unbelievable partnership with the state and Lonoke community for 40-plus years,” Kollitides said.

“We look forward to that continued partnership with the state and community and, most importantly, the employees,” he remarked.

“This is an opportunity to grow our employee base, we are very excited about that,” Kollitides said.

Remington provides 4,000 jobs, with more than 1,000 of those jobs at the Lonoke plant, Kollitides said. With Arkansas’ patriotic background, “There is no better place for Remington to be expanding, period,” he remarked.

Beebe said the partnership with Remington has been extraordinarily good for the people and state of Arkansas.

It is much easier to expand existing businesses than it is create ones, Beebe remarked.

“It is so much more loyal to remember your friends who have invested with you over the years, than it is to ignore them as you try to chase some new suitor,” Beebe said. The expansion is an example of progress by maintaining a longstanding partnership, he said.

While there has been an emphasis on high-tech opportunities, Arkansas has not forgotten “the cornerstone” of the economy, which is manufacturing, Beebe said. “If you can’t make stuff … you have a problem,” he remarked.

“We don’t cede to Mexico or China, or anyone in the Pacific Rim or anywhere else, the idea of making stuff,” Beebe said. The expansion is an example of that belief, he said.

“We are happy that this workforce has caused you to say ‘Let’s get bigger and better,’” Beebe said. No other factor in growing business is greater than the quality of the workforce, he said.

In his remarks, Pryor agreed that the quality of the workforce is a deciding fact in establishing or expanding a business.

Arkansas is proud of its connection with Remington, Pryor said. “We are proud of what you do here; we are proud of what you stand for; we are proud of your confidence in us,” he said.

At the June 6 Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce meeting, Grahlmann gave some details on the expansion.

The expansion would include a 35,000 square-foot plant, located south of the existing plant, Grahlmann said. It, too, is designed to be expandable, he added.

The jobs at the expanded operation will call for new skills, Grahlmann said. As computer-aided design becomes more complicated, there comes a need for more skilled employees, he said.

During the meeting, Grahlmann said the demand for ammunition is “absolutely unprecedented. I’ve got backorders over two years … And that is just Remington,” he added.

The private sector is by far the driving force in the demand, Grahlmann said. While some of the demand is to law enforcement, very little is to the government, though he could not speak about other manufacturers, he said.

Remington planners saw the demand coming and in 2012 began planning to expand facilities and production, Grahlmann said.

“We spent about $500 million last year, upgrading and increasing the speed of some of our machines,” Grahlmann said. Those improvements led to the need for about 125 more employees, the expansion could the same number, he said.

The plant is now making more ammunition than was ever contemplated for it, but has reached its capability, Grahlmann said. Most areas of the plant are operating at record levels while using machines dating from the 1930s.

The only way to significantly increase production is with new facilities, he said.