Will craft breweries be the economic shot that downtown Elizabethton needs?

Published 9:06 am Monday, January 8, 2018

One of the success stories in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia has been the emergence of craft beer breweries and it looks as if Elizabethton is on the verge of promoting that market.
City officials voted in December to amend ordinances on the book to allow potential breweries or microbreweries to set up in downtown. With the amendment in place, the city could see a brewery as early as this spring.
These breweries, which have popped up in recent years in Jonesborough, Johnson City, Abingdon, Va., and Asheville, N.C., just to name a few places, not only draw people from long distances to try their brew and to enjoy an evening of good food and drinks, but also employ local people and some use ingredients grown in Tennessee and Virginia.
From town to town, they have been a big boost to the local economy.
There are many definitions for what craft beer is. As Ireland’s beer consumer group, Beoir defines it the same way the government does. Independently owned. It equates to small batch brewing rather than the industrial line brewing (macro) most people drink.
Craft breweries have shown tremendous entrepreneurship. Their businesses are helping bring renewal to downtowns and small towns throughout the state.
Whether or not you agree that it is the kind of business that you want to see in downtown Elizabethton, small town craft breweries can serve as a catalyst to bringing other types of businesses to the downtown.
Beer has been a part of the culture since the Pilgrims changed course on the Mayflower, opting to land on Plymouth because they ran out of the drink. There have always been breweries and distillers in this country. The homebrew craze, though illegal, was once popular in East Tennessee and in the hills of Carter County where folks made their own product at home or out in the woods because it was cheaper and, they thought, fun. Some made a business out of it.
City leaders are banking on the idea that the craft brewery industry can be a way to grow and attract more people to come to Elizabethton to do business.
In fact, the idea of a craft brewery as a model for small-town revitalization is being tested across America. Elizabethton is just the latest town to jump on this idea, and it does seem to have potential with the natural amenities and attractions that exist for out-of-towners.
Preparing, packing, and serving beer in America is a $350 billion industry, and cities that are more inclined to work with potential breweries on regulations, incentives and land use, are more likely to bottle a brewery.
Five or six years ago, there were very few breweries in the state, so it is really an industry that has grown. Many towns and cities in Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina are tapping into the trend and it’s hard to miss the breweries in our area alone.
And, it could lead to another economic incentive — the growing of hops, the flowers used primarily as a flavoring agent in beer and there are various types. If you have a spare field somewhere and the climate to grow hops it could be a money-maker in the future. The UT Agricultural Service is looking into the possibility of promoting the growth of hops as a money-maker for Tennessee farmers.
As old folks, especially those leery of new ideas, would say, “We shall see.”

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