Jan 7, 2013
Bill McMeekin
Bill McMeekin
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Beer’s to You: Tapping into Craft Breweries as Development Strategy

Craft beer sales accounted for 5.7 percent of all beer sold in the United States in 2011.

As we settle into the post-holiday dregs of winter, who can blame us if our thoughts start drifting toward spring, balmy weather and the great American pastime – drinking cold beer on a warm day?

And, increasingly, in communities across the nation, that beer you’re sampling might come from a local purveyor, one of more than 2,075 microbreweries, brew pubs and regional craft breweries now operating in the United States.

We associate certain cities by the industries that built them (or used to). Cars and Detroit. Oil and Houston. Steel and Pittsburgh. So it is with beer, and the brewing meccas of Milwaukee, St. Louis and Golden, CO.

In the olden days, say up until the 1970s, local breweries were as a common as a corner tavern. If you grew up in Cincinnati, it was Hudepohl. In Buffalo, it was Simon Pure and in Rochester, it was Genesee. The great brewery consolidation of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s saw numerous regional beermakers absorbed into increasingly larger U.S. beer giants like Anheuser-Busch and Miller, both of which were acquired by foreign-owned beverage companies in the last decade.

Akin to the local food movement, the local beer movement is gaining some momentum. The multinational companies that own the major U.S. breweries still sell most of the beer consumed in the United States, to be sure, but lest you think the craft industry is small beer, think again.

According to the craft beer industry trade group Brewers Association, craft beer sales in 2011 totaled nearly 11.5  million barrels, and that was nearly 6 percent of all beer sold.

A study by economist Scott Metzger of the University of Texas-San Antonio for the Texas Craft Brewers Guild estimated the economic impact of microbreweries in the Lone Start State alone at $608 million. (Metzger is on the board of the guild and owns  Freetail Brewing Co. in San Antonio.)

Craft brewing is attracting growing interest from economic development professionals, and for a variety of reasons. Local brewing operations not only create jobs (more than 103,00 of them, according to Brewers Association), they also can be high-profile re-users of vacant space and, in many communities, an anchor for downtown redevelopment efforts.

Asheville, NC, wears proudly the moniker of Beer City USA, in no small measure due to the 11 local breweries in the city and a regional alliance of brewers that markets and promotes the craft industry and works closely with local economic development organizations.

Craft brewers can also promote a community’s desirability as a unique place to live and extend its brand well beyond its borders. So, how is it in your community? Are you raising a glass to microbreweries? What experiences have you had working with craft brewers and what value do you see them bringing both from an economic development and quality of place aspect? Share your thoughts.


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