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How Brews Will Whet Our Economic Whistle

Following last week’s bleak news on job creation, it is apparent that if the United States is to transcend its faulty climb out of the recession it must diversify its strategy. Perhaps it is time to look someplace other than corporate America for answers.

An example you ask? Look no further then America’s craft-beer industry. Micro-breweries across the country are thriving and even some of our biggest beer critics are taking notice – the English. That’s right. The folks who, for decades, snickered at our mass-produced and less than artistic barley and hops products are now heralding the business model of American micro-brewing as “inspiring.” And in today’s economy, with big-business often viewed with skepticism and distrust, there is a lesson to be learned. Want growth? Go local. Consumers should consider the employment and economic benefits of supporting the local economy.    

Look at the numbers. Currently, craft-brewers provide an estimated 100,000 jobs in the United States. For those who scoff at the figure consider this. Craft brewer retail dollar value in 2010 was an estimated $7.6 billion. While overall U.S. beer sales were down 1% by volume in 2010, growth of the craft-brewing industry stood at 11% in volume and 12% by dollars. Those figures were up from 7.2% and 10.3% the year before.

Not bad considering last year’s economic growth of 2.6%.

In an age when economic progress seems to be solely defined by quarterly earnings, the craft-brewing industry is growing as a result of its balanced economic approach. Sure, money matters. But so does the local economy.

Take New Belgium Brewing for example. This craft-brewing company in Fort Collins, Colo., is in the business of “producing world-class beers.” But it also prides itself on sustainability. Part of this equation is its employees. New Belgium is employee owned with ownership being awarded after one year of work. The other portion is living in harmony with that which sustains them. The company lists “Kindling social, environmental and cultural change” as one of its core values and beliefs. This is illustrated in the 1998 decision when employee owners voted unanimously to switch New Belgium to wind power.  It was the first brewery of its kind in the United States.      

Or take Lakefront Brewing in Milwaukee. Established in 1987, by the mid-90s the brewery was prospering and began investing in the preservation of local history. At the same time co-owner Russ Klisch established a partnership with Wisconsin farmers to produce organic hops – an agreement and investment in the local economy that mutually benefits Lakefront Brewing and the state’s agricultural industry.

Why does investment in the local economy produce such positive results? Perhaps we can call it conscience with accountability. The corporate economy is like a long-distance relationship where two parties are absent of each other’s presence promoting a sort of disconnected ruin. On the other hand, the local economy relies on neighborhood and subsistence. In other words, a person’s business practices directly affect their community, thus, fostering accountability. Moreover, it promotes a mode of operation that is consistent and sustainable.

In our global obsession people will inevitably object to the idea of the local economy. Is it truly sustainable? Sure, Wisconsinites produce tasty beer but if they want salmon or lobster they will ultimately have to purchase it, and other seafood, from a source thousands of miles away. Of course – after all, no local economy is entirely independent. But let’s not ignore the example of America’s craft-beer industry. In the end, answers to our economic woes may not be hidden in the bureaucratic labyrinth of big business. They are outside our front doors.

Photo Credit: lpolinsky

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