Take sides, but lament the loss of Magpul.

By Bart Taylor | Jan 04, 2014

Reaction to news last week that Magpul was finally pulling up stakes developed along familiar lines. Empathizers blamed overreaching politicians. Supporters of the 2013 legislation charged the company with economic extortion.

Both tended to sidestep the unfortunate reality that losing manufacturing jobs, under these circumstances, is a lousy development. We’re left to wonder if more could have been done to prevent it.

Manufacturing jobs matter - now more than ever. Companies that make things build wealth. They’re critical to differentiating the regional economy. And building on national leadership that Colorado businesses have earned in advanced and lifestyle manufacturing, among others, seems an imperative. Not doing so would be a huge, blown opportunity.

Most importantly for some, manufacturers also drive innovation. Brookings’ Scott Andes and Mark Muro put it this way:

“Manufacturing...is essential to the U.S. economy because it is the main source of innovation and global competitiveness for the United States. Simply put, advanced manufacturing is the U.S. pipeline for new products and productivity-enhancing processes. While the sector makes up just 11 percent of the economy, manufacturers conduct 68 percent of private sector R&D, as reported by our colleagues Sue Helper and Howard Wial last year. And … America’s manufacturing sector also fuels growth within the service sector because intermediary goods—the machines used by services (e.g. automated self check-out kiosks at grocery stores)—drive service sector productivity.”

Of course these are business rationale. Supporters of the legislation that caused the dustup point to the human side of the issue, and assert that ammunition limits will save lives. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and other elected officials who lined up the behind the effort do carry a heavier burden.

It’s also possible that Magpul’s decision to move was fait accompli after Aurora and Sandy Hook, that events would inevitably conspire to force the company to move. It's reasonable to assume that even if last years guns-and-ammunition legislation had failed, advocates would have continued to press the issue in subsequent sessions.

Let's hope the move works out for both sides. Texas feels like a great fit for Magpul. Colorado should root for Wyoming manufacturing; the entire sector will benefit from strong regional growth. And critics aside, Colorado’s progressive brand is a catalyst for manufacturing growth, on balance. The dynamic, young, active, healthy vibe here has become a magnet for talent, for entrepreneurship, and hopefully in the future, more capital.

Industry and government benefit from alignment on policy issues impacting the economy. Hopefully the Magpul episode will provide a roadmap for more effective collaboration in the future.