Henderson firearm designer aiming to expand

Some of George Huang’s firearm designs brought-to-life rest inside a caged area of his Henderson office.

Shelves within the cage hold Huang-designed parts. A vault contains some of Huang’s full rifle designs, including one inspired by “Star Wars” and another by the movie “300.”

Some parts have a laser etching of the Battle Arms Development spartan helmet logo. Others simply say the company name and below that: “Henderson, NV U.S.A.”

“I’m not a cookie-cutter kind of guy,” said Huang, 43. “I like projects where I can think outside the box.”

New home

Huang is in expansion mode after eight years of running Battle Arms.

He plans to add more manufacturing machines to a second location about 10 minutes away, near the intersection of Sunset Road and Boulder Highway.

He bought the property — which contains a nearly 11,000-square-foot building and a 6,000-square-foot building on two acres — in February for $1.95 million.

Problems with connecting utilities to the new building have kept his move-in day up in the air, Huang said. The move should cost Battle Arms about $3 million. A Henderson-issued permit for the project detailed $144,000 worth of work alone on carpeting, painting and adding a wall inside the new location.

His current location near the intersection of American Pacific Drive and Gibson Road will act as a distribution center. The new headquarters will let Huang boost his staff of about eight to about 18.

Passion after tragedy

Like his new building, which once housed a playground equipment maker, Huang has a background in bringing children’s entertainment into reality.

He graduated from Penn State University and became a lead lighting designer in The Walt Disney Co.’s research-and-development wing in 1997. He developed lighting for the California Adventure park and Disneyland Paris.

“I went from designing for kids to making toys for adults,” he said.

Huang didn’t develop a passion for firearms until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He had moved to the United States from Taiwan at 9 years old and grew up with a father who had trained recruits in the military but never cared for weapons.

The shock of watching the World Trade Center fall motivated an adult Huang to learn firearms. Owning guns gave him a sense of control over his safety, he said. But Huang also dug into firearm history and became a collector.

He admits his passion can annoy Sylwia, his wife of almost 20 years and chief operating officer at Battle Arms.

“Anything I do, I get into it 110 percent,” he said.

Detail-minded

In 2005, he moved to the Las Vegas Valley to join the lighting branch of architecture firm Steelman Partners.

He worked on lighting for local casinos such as Mandalay Bay and ones as far as Macau and Vietnam. It was during this time he started Battle Arms.

Jon Champelli, Steelman’s lighting design head, remembers Huang showing off gun parts he would make in his free time. Though not a gun owner himself, Champelli said he appreciated the attention to detail Huang dedicated.

It was a mix of precision and creativity Champelli saw from Huang on projects such as a Blue Man Group retail space inside Monte Carlo.

The space featured a cooler blue-tinged lighting unlike the typically warm lights hotel-casinos are known for.

Huang retired from lighting in 2013, but the two men teach a class on the subject at UNLV. They are two of the few lighting design specialists in the valley. Champelli has seen designers come and go with the casino work, usually moving to New York and Los Angeles for a steadier project flow.

Huang’s approach is more engineering and detailed-minded. Champelli comes from a theatrical background.

“His strengths are my weaknesses,” Champelli said.

‘Flashy but practical’

Customizing firearms with new parts and designs has existed since the creation of firearms, said Michael Bazinet, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation trade group.

The increasingly modular makes of firearms, as seen with the AR-15 rifle, has made it easier for gun owners to create the gun they want, he said.

Nevada ranked among the top 10 states for growth in economic output from the arms and ammunition industry, according to a 2017 report from the trade group.

In Nevada, the arms and ammunition industries directly provided 1,500 jobs and $43.39 million in wages.

Ira Goodstadt, a retired firefighter who lives in South Florida, said he has bought products from Battle Arms since he met Huang at the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s SHOT trade show in the Las Vegas Valley about seven years ago.

Goodstadt said he has seen overseas knockoffs of Battle Arms and other manufacturers for lower price. But friends of his who’ve bought those learn an expensive lesson when their guns fall apart faster.

Plenty of companies offer parts to customize firearms, but Battle Arms stood out to Goodstadt because of the quality of its products, even though they are among the pricier ones out there, he said.

An entire Battle Arms rifle can cost up to $3,350, according to the company’s website. Gun receivers run as high as $309, and triggers run as high as $325.

“They’re flashy but practical, it works,” Goodstadt said. “He owns a piece of the market, and little by little he’s gaining.”

Different perspective

Working today as a manufacturer has given Huang a new appreciation for the vendors he worked with while in lighting.

Huang said he has a better understanding for the times a project scaled back because of budget constraints. For firearm and firearm-parts design, the budget he works with is his own.Not to mention costs for packaging and marketing, both in money and time Huang spends answering questions in online forums.

All these lessons he carries with him when he walks into his UNLV classes. But given the sensitivity around his industry, he doesn’t talk about Battle Arms unless directly asked by a student, he said.

“I want them to learn from my mistakes,” he said. “See a problem and solve that problem using the resources at hand.”

Contact Wade Tyler Millward at wmillward@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4602. Follow @wademillward on Twitter.

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