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By in News | April 20, 2017 at 11:33PM

SUGAR GROVE, W.Va. — One of West Virginia’s burgeoning gun manufacturers thinks he could help serve disabled veterans and multiply his work force more than 20 times over for employment-starved West Virginians–if he can strike a deal during negotiations with the new owners of Sugar Grove LLC.

“Next week, we’re going to be negotiating a contract with them,” Tom Kivlehan, a retired Marine and owner of Fortress Firearms Manufacturing in Petersburg, said Thursday on “The Gary Bowden Show” on the AJR News Network. “We’re actually going to be moving out there and expanding our facility.”

Kivlehan, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 20 years in infantry, small arms repair, and precision weapons repair, said it’s part of the new ownership’s commitment to issues facing veterans. Part of his sales pitch included apprenticeships, gunsmithing, and assistance with rehabilitation for veterans in need.

“We’ll have homeless veterans out there, substance abuse, trauma victims,” he said. “Anything to do with veterans, we’re going to try to bring them out there, rehabilitate them, and put them back out in an industry so that they are more productive.”

According to Kivlehan, that’s at least a portion of the plan the new owners are putting together for the now defunct Naval base.

For Kivlehan, who’s current manufacturing team is backlogged by several months, the Pendleton County facility offers untapped potential.

“We’ll be expanding to the tune of about 200 to 250 employees within the next three years,” he said. “We’re going to bump up production. We’re going after government contracts and the commercial industry as well.”

Kivlehan, originally from Boston, Massachussetts, said the expansion is much needed. He’s one of the few, if only, gun manufacturers in the Mountain State who builds firearms from scratch. His current backlog of orders, which also includes repair work, is as much as six months in some cases.

“I know people are anxious to get their guns back,” he said. “Sometimes we’ve got to wait on parts–especially if we are custom building a gun. We can’t just do that overnight.”

Kivlehan said the wait will be worth it for gun enthusiasts who want tier one firearms made with American products and by American hands right in the heart of West Virginia.

“We were all about quality and accuracy in the Marine Corps,” he said. “So that’s basically what we stand by as American made products, Americans building the products in American materials, and nothing but quality control and reliability.”

Kivlehan started in the burgeoning industry by solely building firearms for military and law enforcement. He began to expand commercially in 2010. The vast majority of their retail is done online.

“[People] are looking at what these bigger companies are actually doing,” he said. “If their barrels are being made in Mexico City or some of the parts are being made in China, people are finding that out and they want quality control and they want American made.”

In an e-mail exchange, Kivlehan said he hoped to have more details on the potential move to Pendleton County by the first week of May.

The former Sugar Grove Naval Base sold at auction in December for roughly $4 million or $1.95 per square foot.

Fortress Firearms Manufacturing LLC, a maker of firearms, parts and accessories in eastern West Virginia, is targeted for growth.

While the company currently has fewer than one dozen full- and part-time employees at its Petersburg location, that soon could triple, owner Thomas Kivlehan Jr., said.

Expansion is planned this fall after securing contracts from Walmart and other distributors. The Petersburg business will be relocating to an industrial park in neighboring Pendleton County.

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 Thomas Kivlehan Jr is a retired Marine 2112. In other words, he knows a thing or two about how to manufacture and maintain firearms of all types. The majority of his accomplishments come from being in the Precision Weapons Section in Marine Corps Base Quanitco, Virginia. There, the section produces all the M40s in use by Scout Sniper platoons, refines all the match weapons in use by the shooting teams, and tests various weapons for the Marine Corps, in addition to providing guidance on how to maintain them and so on. Unlike other military occupational specialties, the 2112s aren’t something a Marine can just be assigned to. They have to prove themselves as a 2111, and then pass a rigorous school in which some of their final tests involve making 1911s, M14s, and M40s from scratch.

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Fortress Firearms Manufacturing, LLC 
145 Hicks Drive, Petersburg, WV 26847

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