Construction is expected to begin next month on gunmaker Beretta USA's "new home" in Gallatin.

Hundreds of state and local officials joined with representatives of Beretta USA Corp. Thursday to break ground on the company's 156,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. It will be built on 100 acres in the second phase of the Gallatin Industrial Center.

"We are not a company that builds a manufacturing facility every day," said Franco Gussalli Beretta, executive vice president. "Today we actually break ground on our new home. Beretta's future in Tennessee is now a reality."

In July, Beretta USA announced its plans to move all of its manufacturing from Maryland to Tennessee, due in part to the possibility of new restrictions on the company's ability to produce guns in Maryland.

The decision came just six months after the company announced it would invest $45 million in building a new production and research and development facility in Gallatin for new guns lines, creating upwards of 300 jobs.

"Today is a great day for Tennessee," Gov. Bill Haslam said. "We believe that our brand as the state of Tennessee has taken on new luster because Beretta has chosen to locate here, and we are forever grateful."

Established in Italy in 1526, Beretta is one of the oldest family-owned manufacturers in the world, making a wide range of rifles and pistols as well as hunting apparel and accessories. Beretta USA Corp., which was founded in 1977, supplies the standard sidearm to the U.S. armed forces.

As part of their expansion search, company officials looked at hundreds of sites across 22 states before visiting 80 locations in seven states last year.

"Not only because of the support of the governor and his economic team, but also because of the pro Second Amendment attitude of the Tennessee citizens and the pro-business attitude of the state, we thought that this was the perfect place," said Jeff Reh, Beretta USA Corp. board member.

Work on the new Gallatin facility is set to begin in late September with the shell of the building expected to be completed by April 2015. Company officials hope to begin moving in machinery by May with the facility becoming operational in June or July.

According to plans submitted last month to the Gallatin Planning Department, the facility will include about 130,000 square feet of manufacturing space, 12,500 square feet of office space along with indoor firing ranges.

The site will also allow the company room to expand in the future, said Reh.

"The entire structure is about 156,000 square feet, but we've got room to grow to 200,000 square feet in a pretty short period of time," he said. "That's why we needed a lot of acreage, because we're planning important growth here."

160 initial jobs

Within the next year, Beretta expects to move about 160 jobs to Gallatin, Reh said, adding that within two to three years the company expects the facility to have about 240 jobs. Eventually that number will grow to about 300.

About half of the initial 160 jobs are expected to be filled by current employees at the company's Maryland facility.

"We've got a lot of people coming here, but we're going to fill any open spots with local employees," Reh said.

On Wednesday, representatives from Georgia-based Pattillo Construction met with 160 contractors in Gallatin about the project.

"While we begin to accumulate our resources, we will look to make sure that we are committed to using local and regional contractors to construct this project," said Adam Pearlman, president of Pattillo Construction.

'Turning point' for Gallatin

On Thursday, state and local leaders praised the foresight and vision of leaders both past and present for getting Gallatin to where it is today.

"I think the future of Gallatin and for Sumner County, just like it is for Tennessee, is brighter in the years and decades to come thanks to that support and leadership," said Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty.

In 2008, the city of Gallatin purchased 207 acres for the second phase of the city's industrial park for about $4 million. Beretta became the first business to announce its plans to locate to the section in January.

Since then, the news has generated a ripple effect for Gallatin, said Mayor Jo Ann Graves, who added Beretta's decision has landed the city on the radars of more businesses looking at locations to expand and/or relocate.

"Today is a turning point for Gallatin," she said. "We are now seeing companies that are saying that if Beretta is going to Gallatin then they want to come here and see what we have to offer, too. I think you'll hear even more announcements in the future."

Reach Josh Cross at 615-575-7115.