The Henderson County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing tonight, Dec. 12, to consider granting economic development incentives for an unnamed company that wants to open a facility in the county. The speculation? That it’s Sierra Nevada Brewing, looking to build a new facility in WNC.
Last month, Tim Schaller, ABA President and owner of Wedge Brewing, reported to Xpress that Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. was considering Henderson County for a new production facility. And in recent days, WLOS reporter Russ Bowen, AC-T reporter Jason Sandford and others have speculated that the unnamed company in consideration may be the Chico, Calif.-based brewery. According to the commissioner meeting’s agenda, the company in question wants to remain anonymous, “due to competitive pressures.”
Sierra Nevada executives, including founder and CEO Ken Grossman, have made several recent trips to Western North Carolina. Grossman will return this week to meet with Asheville Brewers Alliance members on Wednesday, Dec. 14, at a meeting he set up with the ABA.
“We’ve been happy that Ken has reached out to us and wants to meet and discuss our concerns,” Schaller told Xpress. “His history is good with supporting other breweries.”
The Henderson County hearing will take place at 5:30 p.m. today, and the notice for the hearing states: “’Project 300 Company’ is a manufacturing concern currently located outside Henderson County contemplating locating an additional facility in Henderson County.”
The potential benefits to the public include taxable capital investment of at least $45 million in real estate improvements and at least $70 million on business equipment, the notice says.
The notice also notes that the project would create around 125 new jobs with an average annual salary higher than Henderson County’s average manufacturing salaries for full-time work. The average annual manufacturing wage for 2010 in Henderson County was $48,600, according to the Employment Security Commission. There currently are a number of manufacturing businesses in the county, including Wilsonart, GE Lighting, Print Pack and Kimberly Clark.
The incentives being considered would total $3,750,000 and would be accounted for over seven years. These incentives would help the company with some or all of its land acquisition, site development and preparation, water, sewerage, and construction, according to the notice.
Terrence Sullivan, Sierra’s assistant brew master, spent several days in Asheville last week. He taught a class to regional beer industry folks at the Thirsty Monk downtown on Thursday, Dec. 8.
“We’re looking at reaching capacity at the existing brewery this year, so it makes sense to build a second facility on the East Coast,” Sullivan said during the class. “It’s also so expensive to ship bottled beer across the country.”
He says the 31-year-old brewery spends about $10 million annually shipping their beer, which is sold in every state in the U.S. Sierra currently is the second largest craft brewer in the U.S., after Boston Beer Company, and will brew around 880,000 barrels of beer in 2011. The brewery is on track to brew 1 million barrels in 2012, says Sullivan. Craft breweries, defined as those that produce less than 2 million barrels annually, accounted for $7 billion in the U.S. beer market in 2010.
“The brewery is using the equation of looking at the quality of life, the cost of living, the schools and more, when deciding where to move,” Sullivan said.
He told this reporter after the class that initially Sierra will bring some of its employees from Chico to set up the new brewery and to oversee brewing quality, but he doesn’t expect that to be more than 10 or 12 people. The remainder of the employees for the facility would be hired locally, he says.
New Belgium Brewing, based in Fort Collins, Colo., also plans to open a second facility on the East Coast, and Asheville is on the company’s short list. Founder and CEO Kim Jordan and head brewer Peter Bouckaert attended the Asheville Brewers Alliance holiday party at Lexington Avenue Brewery on Thursday, Dec. 9. Sullivan and a few other Sierra Nevada executives attended that event as well. New Belgium currently ranks as the third largest craft brewery in the nation.
ABA members have voiced some concern about incentive packages for Sierra Nevada and New Belgium. Schaller emphasizes that it’s important to the ABA that if these breweries come to the area, the jobs they provide go primarily to area residents.
“It’s not a job-creation program if the business brings in all their people from elsewhere,” he notes. “Though personally, I’m looking forward to drinking more great beer that’s brewed here.”
“Sierra Nevada’s decision to build a brewing establishment in Henderson County will be a boon and a challenge to the local beer industry, and bring much needed manufacturing jobs to the area,” says Oscar Wong, CEO and founder of Asheville’s Highland Brewing Co. in Asheville.
Currently, the only brewery in Henderson County is Southern Appalachian Brewery in Hendersonville, which moved from Fletcher last summer.
“I can’t think of any other brewery I’d be as excited about coming here,” says owner/head brewer Andy Cubbin of Southern Appalachian. “I really respect the way they do business, and I think they’ve made it a priority to reach out to brewers here.”
Grossman has called Cubbin directly, and he and his spouse Kelly Cubbin probably will meet with him privately this week, says Andy Cubbin.
“If Sierra comes here, I think it will have a positive effect on our business,” says Andy. “Still, lots of people nearby don’t know we exist, so it will bring more folks in.”
He also adds that Southern Appalachian’s core clientele are locals who come into the taproom after work for a beer, and that’s not likely to change.
There was speculation that Sierra Nevada was looking at Black Mountain for its expansion — especially after a November decision by the Town of Black Mountain Board of Aldermen to approve a motion requesting an Interstate 40 interchange at Blue Ridge Road. That motion was denied by the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
Henderson County has the benefit of being close to Asheville Regional airport.
For meeting updates, follow @JakeFrankel via the hashtag #avlbeer.