Beer: Good for jobs

Nathan Baker • Updated Dec 26, 2017 at 11:27 PM

An economic force has been brewing over the past decade.

As the national economy recovered from the Great Recession and the country developed a thirst for craft beer, thousands of new breweries opened, adding tens of thousands of new jobs.

The number of brewery employees — 69,369 as of June — is still relatively small compared to other industry sectors, including the similar soft drink manufacturing industry, but its rapid rise caught the attention of national economists tasked with charting the country’s employment trends.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Senior Economist Erin Delaney said breweries accounted for more than half the jobs gained in beverage manufacturing from 2006 to 2016.

Delaney and her colleague, Matt Haines, compiled a report on breweries’ uncapped growth released Tuesday by the bureau. On Tuesday, Delaney noted the agency’s classification for breweries only counts businesses primarily producing beers and ales as their main business activity. Brew pubs, which are bars or restaurants with microbreweries attached, are counted elsewhere.

Since 2010, she said annual employment in the industry steadily grew.

According to the economists, California and Colorado, states early to the craft beer party, held the most brewery jobs among the states. Since 2006, Indiana’s brewery employment grew the fastest, adding 54 times the number of jobs in the 10-year period.

But most states saw significant gains, and Tennessee was not left behind.

In 2010, the first year data for the state were first published, there were 21 brewery employees. By 2016, that grew to 427, more than 20 times over.

According to the government’s figures, six Tennessee counties reported employment figures for breweries in June.

Davidson County, home to the state’s capital, reported 17 breweries and 202 jobs, followed by Knox County’s 10 establishments and 124 jobs.

Washington County held onto three breweries and 15 jobs.

Eric Latham, owner of downtown’s Johnson City Brewing Company, said the growing small businesses don’t hire as many employees as others, but their impact is shared with the communities that support them.

“We went to a craft conference in Washington, D.C., in April, and they talked about the jobs being created,” he said. “Apparently, the bulk of that is happening among the smaller breweries, those that focus on community and their neighborhoods.”

Latham’s brewery opened in 2014 in a small combined space housing production and a taproom in a rented corner of the downtown King’s Centre.

This year, the business opened a larger, more visible taproom at the corner of Roan and Main streets, and Latham is in the process of moving production to a larger industrial space formerly operated as the Rafters night club.

When it opened, Johnson City Brewing Company was the first in Johnson City in more than a decade and only the second in the region, behind Jonesborough’s Depot Street.

Now, there are three breweries in downtown Johnson City — with at least one more on the way — and nearly a dozen in the region.

Delaney said the breweries have added benefits to the region’s economy not quantified in employment and payroll. Separate taprooms and bars, for example, sell the breweries’ products, but aren’t counted in the industry-specific data.

“If you’re looking downtown and seeing bars and taverns that have microbreweries attached, those are not included in these numbers,” she said. “The growth could be bigger, which is interesting.”

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