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The Boston Globe

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Greetings from Gun Valley

Booming sales. Good-paying factory jobs. Tax breaks for employers. With little fanfare, firearms manufacturing is thriving in our blue, blue state.

LENNY LARIVEE has spent 68 percent of his 69 years on this planet doing the same thing: making guns. And he’s made them all for one company, Savage Arms in Westfield, just off Exit 3 on the Mass. Pike. He’s tall and bald, with a voice that is low and a speaking style that is John Wayne-slow. He is also a cantankerous character. Newcomers who stop by his bench expecting to find a senior statesman are usually startled to hear his opening line: “You don’t like what I say? Stay the eff away.”

Larivee has seen it all. How the $1.25 he made per hour in 1965 shot up to $22.50 an hour by 1971, factoring in piecework incentives. How years of bad management forced the company into bankruptcy protection in 1988, when 800 employees walked out of the factory with their tools on a Friday afternoon and only 100 were invited back on Monday morning — and for substantially less pay. How the company was living week to week for a long time, with its straight-talking new leader, Ron Coburn, telling his remaining employees: “Don’t cash your check until I say the money’s in the bank.” Looking back on it now, Larivee admits, “I never thought we’d make it.”

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