Greetings of the season to you and yours! It’s time to offer a toast — and wish you good health, good fortune, and prosperity in the year to come.
Perhaps you are sitting at home now reading this, in your hand-hewn maple rocking chair designed and constructed by a North Carolina woodworker. You may have put off wrapping the lovely, unique, and colorful presents crafted by individuals in Maine or Hawaii — or anywhere in between — and sold on the internet.
Possibly, at your elbow, is a beer glass resting on a coaster. As you watch the logs in your fireplace shift and spark, and smell the distinct smokiness that comes when seasoned wood burns slowly, you take a sip of that local beer that’s been specially brewed for the holiday season, with notes of orange peel, allspice, cardamom, honey, or even caramel.
While enjoying this moment, you’re probably not thinking about the resurgence in small batch manufacturing, in which craft breweries play a major role. In fact, it’s pretty definite that — unless you are the owner of one — you’re not aware that craft breweries contributed $67.8 billion to the U.S. economy last year, and provided more than 456,000 full-time equivalent jobs. (Full disclosure – I do brew my own beer, but it’s really nice to be able to buy from a more diverse selection, especially when I can’t take my own with me.)
That craft beer is sitting on the end table next to you because you, like 78 percent of all adults of drinking age, live within 10 miles of a brewery. There are craft breweries in every state of the country. California has the most, topping the list with 7,345, but even tiny Rhode Island is home to 152. You may meet your friends at your local brewpub for an evening out or an afternoon with family and friends at a brew farm that also has activities for kids. Or maybe you poured your own at home, out of the growler you filled at the microbrewery in the next town (like my son when he comes to visit).
If you and your friends enjoy tasting new craft beers, you can plan a vacation for the next year around a beer festival. You won’t be alone; brewers’ festivals abound. The Oregon Brewers Festival in Portland attracted 800,000 visitors last year and Chattanooga, Tennessee, saw 8,000 visitors to its Southern Brewers Festival. Some, like SavorSM: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience in Washington, DC, incorporate food tastings as well; others, like the Washington Brewers Festival in Redmond, feature music, entertainment, and even activities for children.
Another way to get a beer-tasting holiday in is to check this novel beer tourism index. It ranks cities and towns by availability of rideshare programs, costs of stay, and more, so you can determine the best place to have your “beercation.” More than 10 million people toured craft breweries in 2014, with more than half of those from outside the destination area. That kind of tourism has boosted more than the craft breweries — it’s raised local economies, as more people book rooms in hotels, eat at local restaurants, and visit other local attractions. It’s also created a new sub-business. Bus-based brewery tour companies, which can take you and your companions to tastings at a few local craft brewers over one or a few days, are on the rise.
Of course, as with growth in any other manufacturing endeavor, there are sometimes bumps in the road. That’s where MEP Centers, which are part of the MEP National NetworkTM, have proven invaluable to these businesses. When a craft brewer starts serving more than the locals, and ups production in order to meet demand, there can be growing pains. More water usage, more waste water. More servers, more sales people, more warehouse staff. More equipment. Different configurations. A need for wider marketing, more merchandising and packaging, and maybe even coaching regarding exporting. If you’re used to small, the new landscape and opportunities can be overwhelming. Business practices may need to be slightly modified or completely overhauled.
The New Mexico MEP helped the Santa Fe Brewing Company do just that. Consultants stepped in, reviewed the situation, and helped the company redesign operations and train its workforce to accommodate its 26 percent increase in sales. The Oregon MEP worked with the Fort George Brewery to improve its energy efficiency and waste disposal practices. And in Idaho, TechHelp assessed the practices and workflow at the Payette Brewing Company and showed them how to implement lean manufacturing principles to improve production with a lower environmental impact.
As you contemplate the fire and think about the coming year, you may want to consider the ways that your local MEP Center can help your business. Whether you own a craft brewery or not, there are many ways this National Network can help you take your business to its next level, improve its production stream, and keep your workforce sharp, trained, and harmonious.
In the meantime, may your holidays be bright and sweet, and the new year bring you joy.