July 20, 2011; Source: Flathead Beacon  |  How many nonprofit start-ups draw the CEO of a national advocacy organization to their kick-off meeting? Well, at least one. The National Rifle Association‘s Wayne LaPierre was on hand in remote Whitefish, Montana for the launch of the Montana Firearms Institute (MFI). The purpose of the Institute is to “advocate for Montana’s firearms and shooting sports industries, promote Montana’s friendly climate for firearms manufacturing, and champion the Second Amendment.”

The model?  Gordona, a quiet, prosperous Alpine region in northern Italy on the Swiss border. There, a cluster of skilled artisans, including woodcarvers, engravers, and barrel makers, cooperate to supply top Italian gun manufacturers with high-end product.

The nonprofit was hatched by Whitefish City Councilor Chris Hyatt, State Senator Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish), and local attorney Duncan Scott, who observed that the firearms industry appeared to be recession-proof. A small cluster of firearms companies is already present in northwest Montana as a foundation for future growth. Furthermore, there is bipartisan support within state government for policies favoring gun rights.

While MFI’s mission might be associated with conservative politics, the effectiveness of its work is explicitly linked with public spending.  For example, organizers discussed opportunities for small businesses to compete for lucrative government contracts if they were better organized and had an appropriately skilled workforce. They are exploring a new workforce training program through Flathead Valley Community College or Montana State Extension.

To the east, there may be some competition in the crosshairs.  Emphasizing their gun friendly culture and hospitable business climate, South Dakota has already launched a business recruitment strategy aimed at firearms makers. Let’s hope it stays friendly!–Kathi Jaworski