By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, S.C., June 30 (Reuters) - The first gun manufacturer to leave Connecticut after it enacted tough new gun control laws last year in the wake of the Newtown school shootings presented a commemorative rifle on Monday to the governor of South Carolina, its new home.
PTR Industries Inc is among a wave of firearms makers moving or expanding away from the industry's traditional base in the U.S. Northeast to the more gun-friendly South.
Gun sales in the United States have grown steadily over the past 30 years and spiked last year after the Newtown shootings because of fear of coming restrictions, analysts said.
"Everybody who is looking to expand in new factory space is looking outside the Northeast. The reasons are taxes, labor and laws," said Brian Ruttenbur, an analyst with CRT Capital Group.
A maker of expensive target rifles, PTR announced an $8 million investment in South Carolina, and moved about 45 jobs to a factory near Myrtle Beach in January.
PTR's limited edition commemorative rifle, which sells for $1,200, is stamped with the South Carolina logo and the words: "We the people shall not be infringed."
Alabama announced in February that Remington Outdoor Co Inc was moving some production lines from Ilion, New York, where it has been based since 1816, to Huntsville, Alabama, with a $110 million investment that promises to bring 2,000 jobs to the Southern state.
Connecticut-based Sturm Ruger & Co Inc is building a 220,000-square-foot facility in North Carolina, the company's first major expansion in more than 25 years, it said.
Colt's Manufacturing Co, also based in Connecticut, moved its Colt Competition rifle manufacturer to Texas last year.
Beretta USA, based for decades in Accokeek, Maryland, is building a $45 million firearms research and manufacturing plant in Gallatin, Tennessee, after Maryland banned sales of specific types of assault weapons last year.
Courted by several states, Beretta made a list of "traditional true blood Second Amendment states" for consideration, general counsel and vice-general manager Jeff Reh told The Sportsman Channel.
Gun company relocation and expansion to better locations are in protest against new gun control laws, firearm industry analyst Rommel Dionisio of Wedbush Securities told Reuters.
The gun makers' aging northeastern factories are also a factor, according to Ruttenbur.
The 150-year-old gun industry started in the Northeast as companies such as Smith and Wesson Holding Corp, Remington Arms Co Inc and Colt took advantage of the availability of cheap steel.
Attitudes toward gun ownership are now polarized and geographically separated, said Ruttenbur.
"The demand for guns is not in the Northeast. It's not on the coasts. Gun ownership is dramatically going higher in the heartland," he said.
Firearms makers are having an "awakening," said PTR vice president John McNamara.
"When folks in the northeast are approached by states like South Carolina, Texas and Georgia and shown what they can be doing, there's no competition," he said. "Connecticut banned the product we make." (Editing by David Adams and Andre Grenon)