Georgia has done a stellar job at creating a healthy environment for business and industry to thrive.
Well … most business and industry.
I’m sure the folks working in Georgia’s burgeoning craft beer and spirits industry – including a handful of entrepreneurs trying to build businesses in Augusta – would say the Peach State could be much more hospitable to homegrown brewers and distillers.
If you were to compare Georgia’s alcohol laws to those of most other states, you would probably agree they are horribly antiquated are holding back an industry that is growing in leaps and bounds elsewhere.
Take, for example, North Carolina, whose $7 billion-a-year craft brew industry is more than double that of Georgia’s. Or Oregon, where the city of Portland alone is home to more craft brewers (80) than the entire state of Georgia (50).
The federal law that ended prohibition in 1933 gave states the power to regulate how alcohol can be manufactured, distributed and sold. The way Georgia chooses to run its “three-tier” system is one of the most restrictive, and it certainly is not conducive to the “drink local” movement where consumers are eschewing major national brands for more localized craft beer offerings.
Not only are Georgia microbreweries relegated to industrial zones – the kind of places people don’t generally go for a drink – they can’t actually sell you their beer. That’s why Georgia breweries have to abide by the hokey “tour and taste” system, where patrons pay for a brewery tour in order to get a small sample of “free” beer.
In Alabama, they let you buy the beer and drink it on-site if you want. Same in North Carolina, which also lets you fill up a growler and take it home with you. South Carolina lets its breweries sell the equivalent of a case of beer a day to consumers.
“Generally speaking, a brewery in another state is on average about 2.5 times more profitable per gallon of beer they make than a Georgia brewery is,” said Nancy Palmer, the executive director of the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild.
Georgia is a conservative state – which is generally a good thing, in my opinion – but overly conservative when it comes to booze rules. Remember, “high-gravity” beers weren’t available here until 2004. Sunday sales weren’t legalized until 2011. And those 64-ounce growler jugs you now see everywhere weren’t allowed until 2013.
So, yeah, we could stand to lighten up a bit. That would make things easier on fledgling homegrown ventures such as RiverWatch Brewery, Savannah River Brewing Co. and Fruitland Augusta, and make Georgia more attractive to out-of-state craft brewers looking to expand their operations.
RiverWatch Brewery, by the way, just released its first kegs last week. Look for its Route 104 pale ale, Scenic Overlook blonde ale and NPR wheat beer at places including Tip Top Taps in Evans, Gravity Growlers on Furys Ferry Road and Hive Growler Bar on 10th Street downtown.
One could argue that there is a societal price to pay for liberalizing alcohol regulations, but I don’t think anyone can reasonably argue that letting microbreweries sell a small amount of product to the public is going to bring about widespread social decay.
Alcohol has been a problem since man crushed his first grape. But that shouldn’t be the argument to keep millions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs from being created in Georgia.
MORE ON BEER: World of Beer is still working on opening its Augusta gastropub at 2819 Washington Road next month.
The Tampa, Fla.-based chain was stoking interest among locals at the Augusta Craft Beer Festival last weekend at Lake Olmstead Stadium, which was put on to benefit the Greater Augusta Sports Council, which turns 25 this year. Raise a glass to that.
For those unfamiliar with World of Beer, it has more than 70 locations in 20 states and offers more than 50 beers on tap on a rotating basis, plus more than 500 kinds of ales, pilsners, porters, stouts and lagers in bottles.
SEW WHAT?: The beer festival wasn’t the only thing rocking Augusta this weekend. A different kind of crowd was at Branum’s Sewing & Vacuum’s “sewing retreat” at DoubleTree by Hilton on Perimeter Parkway. The three-day event caps off Monday with an appearance by Hanspeter Ueltschi, whom die-hard quilting and embroidery fans know as the fourth-generation owner of BERNINA International, the Swiss-based maker of high-end sewing machines.
If BERNINA is the Gibson guitar of the sewing machine world, then Ueltschi must be something of a rock star, because his PR people informed me he would be available to “meet guests and autograph sewing machines” from 3-5 p.m. at the hotel Monday.
They also said the event would close with him presenting two BERNINA 215 Simply Red machines to Augusta nonprofits Safe Homes and Hope House as part of a campaign that “utilizes BERNINA sewing machines to empower women with the art and craft of sewing.”
SORRY, NOT INTERESTED: I noticed Eagle Parts & Products, an Augusta-based manufacturer of aftermarket parts for golf cars and other electric vehicles, had filed for permits with Richmond County to build a 22,600-square-foot expansion to its 125,000-square-foot facility off Marvin Griffin Road.
Given that expansions are usually a sign of new investment and job creation, and being that I like good news, I decided to call the company to inquire about the building addition.
After being put on hold for a short time, the woman who took the call informed me the company president was not interested in speaking with me. As I started to ask why, she hung up on me.
I can only assume they are one of those “no news is good news” kind of companies.
ON THE OTHER HAND … : I happened to notice Doctors Hospital also filed with the county to build a 46,720-square-foot expansion at its Joseph M. Still Burn Center. But instead of giving me the brush-off, hospital spokesman Adam Landau told me the expansion is for a new, three-story medical office building that would enable the hospital to add 10 bays to its 20-bay wound clinic.
He said the hospital needed more room for its outpatient clinic, which sees about 21,000 patients a year. The building also would create a new trauma clinic and burn rehabilitation facility, he said.
Sounds like a pretty sizable investment – one I’ll be telling you more about soon. Like I said, I enjoy sharing good news.
HOLLYWOOD IN EVANS: It’s no secret that film and television producers are in love with Georgia. The major entertainment industry tax incentives it rolled out more than a decade ago has helped make Georgia’s film industry the fourth largest in the nation, behind California, New York and Texas.
Last year alone, 248 feature films, television movies and series, commercials and music videos were shot across the state, creating a $6 billion impact.
So it makes sense that economic developers in Columbia County would be trying to make the county a bigger blip on the industry’s radar. They recently announced that their “Film Columbia County” initiative has joined the Association of Film Commissioners International, a nonprofit group representing more than 300 film commissions on six continents.
Holy networking opportunities, Batman!
Membership will “help create brand awareness for Film Columbia County, ultimately opening doors for new opportunities to connect with location managers and industry experts,” according Randy DuTeau, the executive director of the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Robbie Bennett, the executive director of the Development Authority of Columbia County, said the Film Columbia County team “is dedicated to developing a customer service-focused film office and building key relationships within the film industry.”
Though the county doesn’t have everything a location scout would want, I can think of plenty of wooded areas, lots of nice neighborhoods and a big ol’ lake that would make great places to film.