PORTLAND — The former owner of Bushmaster Firearms International LLC and other investors have started a new rifle company in the former Bushmaster manufacturing plant in Windham.

Windham Weaponry will make rifles and employ as many as half of the 73 people who worked at the Bushmaster plant, which closed earlier this year. More employees may be hired before the end of the year, said a news release.

“A group of investors felt there was a great opportunity for a new company when Bushmaster Firearms International LLC decided to relocate the company to another state and lay off all its employees,” said the release. “These employees in many cases have 25 years of experience in making one of the finest rifles in the world.”

Windham Weaponry will operate in the Windham Business Park and begin production in July, with initial shipments scheduled for September.

The investor group is led by Richard Dyke, who founded Bushmaster and sold the company in April 2006 to a New York City-based private equity firm, Cerberus Capital Management, for an undisclosed sum.

Cerberus affiliates own Freedom Group of Madison, N.C., Bushmaster’s parent company, said a spokesman.

In December, Dyke said that he owned the Windham property with his son, and that they had business plans.

“I would like to attract some kind of manufacturing company,” he said. “I can assure you (the property) won’t be empty.”

Dyke said he had a noncompete agreement with Bushmaster’s owner that expired in April. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Tom Bartell, Windham’s economic development director, said Dyke established the new company without assistance from the town.

“When Bushmaster went out, Mr. Dyke stepped up and said, ‘I will try my best to … bring something back to Windham and to the workers,’ ” Bartell said. “Stepping up like he did says something about his talents and drive.”

Freedom Group announced in December that it would close the Bushmaster plant in March. It said it would retain the Bushmaster brand but move manufacturing from Windham to other facilities.

Freedom Group owns other firearms manufacturers, including Remington Arms Co., Dakota Arms Cos., Parker Gunmakers, H&R 1871 and Marlin Firearms.

Bushmaster makes short-barreled and long-barreled rifles, including the M16 and AR15. The company’s guns are used by hunters, sportsmen, law enforcement agencies, security firms and the militaries of 50 countries, according to Bushmaster’s website.

 

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]