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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Do we want Philly to be Brussels-on-Schuylkill?

Philly is still in the running for New Belgium's east coast brewery, according to this story from Charlotte, N.C.'s WBTV. Crowing a bit over Sierra Nevada's decision to settle near Asheville -- and understandably so! -- WBTV noted:
New Belgium Brewing, known for its tasty Fat Tire beer, is also considering the Asheville area for a possible plant. New Belgium recently toured the Western NC area for possible sites. Both brewers want to expand beer output and to cut shipping costs with East Coast plants.
"Asheville and Philly are leading our short list of sites," New Belgium spokesman Bryan Simpson told the Denver Post last month.
Leading the short list. How does Sierra Nevada deciding on Asheville affect that? You could say -- as I'm sure many are thinking -- that New Belgium will now look away, since Sierra Nevada's in town. There's not room for two big breweries in town. That doesn't follow for sure; for instance, look at all the pharmaceutical industries around Philadelphia, look at Silicon Valley, or, if you prefer, look at Portland -- either Portland, where several good-sized craft breweries are in business quite close to each other.

This doesn't preclude New Belgium settling in Asheville at all. It's still attractive for the same reasons it always was, and now you've got an added attraction, in that having Sierra in the area will draw support industries, draw skilled workers, create an atmosphere even more supportive of craft beer. As our pharmaceutical businesses have learned, that's a tangible benefit.

However...Philadelphia is also still attractive for the same reasons it always was, and -- no slight to Asheville -- we've got more to offer. Let me enumerate:
  • You want outdoor? Hey, mountain kids: meet The Shore. That's right, we have an ocean right over there. And if you want hiking, the Appalachian Trail -- you've heard of that, right? -- is right over there. An hour to the ocean, two hours max to the AT.
  • You want fun? Philly's got music, restaurants, bike trails, all this historical stuff you may have heard of, and...unlike Asheville OR Denver, we're a quick train ride or drive from three other major fun towns: NYC, Baltimore, and DC (and I can tell you, Boston's not that much farther).
  • You want infrastructure? Multiple major highways, rail nexus, AND a major port. Growing breweries already in place to pull talent and suppliers, and some of them already on-board with the whole green idea. And there's that pharmaceutical industry I mentioned, with lots of crossover (like the dairy business was in the early days). 
  • You want beer culture? Again, no slight to Asheville, but...Philly Beer Week. The most recognized Belgian bistro in America (plus several others), and what is said to be the biggest market for Belgian beer in the country. Craft taps in a substantial percentage of area bars. A beer-savvy local government. And again...Philly Beer Week.
  • You want to sell beer? Guys...look at the map. Are there more craft beer drinkers within 300 miles of Asheville...or Philly. Nuff said
But what about the other side of this equation? Does Philly want New Belgium? I suspect our local brewers -- several of whom make a good living doing just what New Belgium does --  would not necessarily be up for that, but...if I were a local politician, if I were a local business owner, if I were a taxpayer?  

Welcome to Pennsylvania, Kim Jordan!

New Belgium means jobs. Good jobs, vested jobs. New Belgium means green manufacturing. They are a model for low-impact industry. New Belgium means an even larger beer culture. It's true; yes, Philly, we can do better (I wrote that almost 5 years ago, and it's still true). New Belgium means better beer. Everything I wrote earlier this week about Sierra Nevada forcing Asheville's brewers to up their game? Holds true here, too.

Not to mention...our local brewers can definitely hold their own. I have no doubt of it. Our guys -- from Victory, to Flying Fish, to Dogfish Head (yeah, they're local enough), to Yards and Philly Brewing, to Iron Hill and McKenzie, to Nodding Head, and even our man Dick Yuengling -- can handle this. They're good. Real good.

And that's good, because New Belgium brings resources and cooperation, too. They're good citizens in many ways. I also guarantee you that they'd bring new excitement and beer tourism to the area...which is good for everyone in the game. Including we drinkers!

I hope Philly's still in the hunt, and I hope our local governments are smart enough to be helping things along.


Dave said...

Somehow I just can't picture a large metro area for New Belgium. Is Philly even a bicycle friendly town? NBB and bikes gotta go hand in hand. A crowded city like Philly might now fit that image.

I'd picture New Belgium nestled somewhere up next to the Appalachians with mountain streams flowing near by, not some big bustling city far from the peace and quiet of suburbia.

Granted Asheville area already has a ton of breweries, perhaps there is another town that is more like the lost twin sister of Fort Collins out there.

Jay said...

I assume that all the talk of New Belgium and Sierra Nevada considering "Philly" means outside of Philadelphia county, right?

Misinformed as I may be, I have always considered city taxes prohibitive to new business like this, and as a result have assumed the "Philly" in these discussions to actually be Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, or another county. (But not south Jersey - they have goof beer laws)

Lew Bryson said...

Philly is definitely bike-friendly:
There are trails through the city as well as bike lanes (the Pennypack runs right across the city, staying in the woods most of the way; the Schuylkill River trail runs from the city 25 miles out to Valley Forge Historical Park; trails run up the Delaware River all the way to Easton, about 60 miles (with several breweries along the way). We're definitely bike-friendly, and...not actually that crowded. Philly's noted for being wonderfully walkable, and Fairmount Park is by far the largest city park east of the Rockies (Phoenix's South Mountain Park is bigger), and is full of trails, even single-track.

Far as that goes, Philly goes to green suburbs pretty quickly; there are even working farms within city limits. We have a nationally-recognized green city initiative well under way.

Besides, I don't think anyone's talking about putting the brewery right in the city. There are plenty of very green, open spots indeed within 20 miles. Sierra's not right in Asheville, right?

Lew Bryson said...

I'd have to agree, Jay...unless the city actually woke the hell up and made some concessions. But as I said to Dave, I would think that NB would be more likely to be looking outside the city. Although...there are some pretty green spots within the County. It would depend on what the city is willing to do -- likely not much -- and what NB wants. I mean...Bucks would be perfect!

Anonymous said...

Personally, I dont think a "green" company would build on greenfields "nestled up somewhere next to the appalachians."

I think a green company would commit to adaptive re-use and avoid duplication of infrastructure and unnecessary transportation costs/emissions.

Why not put it in the city. That would be the greenest thing to do.