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Gun maker’s move from Milan to Eldridge brings big contract with Estonia

ELDRIDGE, Iowa (AP) — A gun-making group moving to eastern Iowa is bringing with it a $25 million contract to make rifles for Estonia's nation's military.

Lewis Machine & Tool is relocating from Milan, Illinois, to its new and much larger plant in Eldridge, Iowa, where it will supply the Estonian Defence Forces with 16,000 rifles, according to the Quad-City Times .

Estonia borders Russia and the Baltic Sea in northern Europe.

Matt Pruitt, the company's sales and marketing director, said all of the rifles will be made in Eldridge. He said the thousands of firearms represent the company's largest order, but not its largest invoice. The company landed a $30 million deal with the United Kingdom in 2009.

Manufacturing the arms will take considerable time, but Lewis Machine & Tool will have no problem keeping up with the country's deliver schedule, Pruitt said. Big orders are always delivered in stages, such as the 10,000 rifles Lewis produced for New Zealand.

"This is our first time in Estonia," Pruitt said. "As a company, we are in 45 countries in the world."

Eldridge Mayor Marty O'Boyle said the success of the latest tenant in his city's industrial park is promising.

"That's a lot of work, no doubt about it," he said. "For a small operation, that's a big deal. Hopefully they keep getting deals like that and can keep growing the plant."

James Martin, assistant city administrator, said Lewis Machine & Tool is committed under its development agreement with Eldridge to add to its workforce. The current 128 full-time employees are to be bolstered by 50 new positions in January 2020, and that number is to remain stable under its tax increment financing agreement expires at the end of 2031.

The company received about $1 million in state and local tax incentives when it decided to relocate to the industrial park. The new location is about twice the size of its Milan facility. Construction began in November 2017 and is expected to be finished in April.

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