HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The governors of Texas and South Dakota visited Connecticut on Monday to court gun manufacturers that have threatened to leave since the state passed tough new gun-control laws this year in response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
While gun makers may be unlikely to leave behind their factories and skilled workforces, executives say Texas is an appealing location — and some said the out-of-state attention marked a stark contrast with a Connecticut governor they say has shown little regard for a local industry that dates to the Revolutionary War.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry shot at a firing range at Connecticut's venerable Colt Manufacturing Co., one of the plants he toured, and met privately with company owners and other businesses at a downtown Hartford restaurant. At a brief news conference afterward, the Republican offered a conservative policy blueprint in a state run by Democrats.
"Are your tax policies really in the best interest of your job creators?" he asked. "Is your regulatory climate one of which (that) really allows your citizens to be able to enjoy the freedoms that they can have or they should have or that they think they should have or are they going to relocate somewhere?"
Connecticut's Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, signed new gun restrictions into law in April, four months after 20 children and six educators were murdered by a lone gunman at a Newtown school.
Joe Bartozzi, senior vice president and general counsel at O.F. Mossberg & Sons, welcomed Perry's visit to the North Haven gun maker, which employs 270 workers in Connecticut and 400 in Texas. He contrasted Perry's interest in the business and the jobs it provides with what he called "less than flattering remarks" in recent months by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Malloy about the gun industry.
Asked about the possibility of expanding in Texas, Bartozzi said, "That would make more sense. That would be more logical for us."
The political climate in Connecticut is one of the factors, he said. He also said taxes and costs are higher in Connecticut.
Colt President and CEO Dennis Veilleux issued a statement saying Perry assured the company it would "always be welcome in Texas."
Mark T. Malkowski, president of Stag Arms in New Britain, said he's been in touch with Perry's office and met with the governor in Houston last month. He said he and Perry spoke about taxes, what Texas is doing "to keep it a very friendly place for businesses" and the cultural differences between Connecticut and Texas, which is perceived as less hostile to guns.
"There was nothing as much as a phone from our governor asking us to stay," he said.
Kelsey Pritchard, a spokeswoman for South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, said the governor and state economic development officials are visiting Connecticut on Monday and Tuesday to meet with gun manufacturers.
Malkowski said the biggest obstacle to quitting Connecticut is that the company's 200 employees would have to uproot themselves and their families.
"That's the hardest part. The employees make up the business," he said.
Malloy, who welcomed Perry to Connecticut in an unannounced visit to the Texas governor's meeting in Hartford, said the gun issue is particularly sharp in Connecticut because of the killings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"I don't think he understands that kind of loss and how it's affected people in our state," Malloy said.
Legislation enacted in April adds more than 100 firearms to the state's assault weapons ban and bans the sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Perry said taxes and regulations are factors in decisions not only by gun manufacturers, but by pharmaceutical companies, financial firms and other businesses about where to locate.
Malloy sought to blunt Perry's thrust on jobs and industry. Connecticut's governor has made economic development a signature issue since taking office in January 2011, establishing a program consolidating tax credits to draw large employers and pushing for legislation promoting small business and bioscience jobs.
"Listen, we compete for every job and we're doing a pretty good job at it," he said.
Perry has poached in other states. He sought to talk up Texas for jobs in California's high tech, biotechnology, financial, insurance and film industries and urged Illinois employers to leave the state "while there's still time."
The Texas governor, who is set to visit New York during his trip to the Northeast, also has run ads mocking New York's "new New York ads," saying the Empire State is a high-tax state that hasn't much changed.
In Connecticut, he tried to take the edge off his tough message.
"Sometimes it's a rough business. I get that," Perry said. "But so is competition on an athletic field. I hope we can shake hands, realize that we're just competitors. We're all Americans first. "