The Control States Best Practices Awards 2015 Winners

Best Legislative Outreach Program

The Economics of Craft Industry Panels

By Melissa Niksic

Oregon is a state facing widespread concerns about economic development. However, its wine industry is booming and new craft distilleries are on the rise. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) decided it was time to step back and assess the economic impact its work has across the state.

Recognizing an opportunity to showcase the scope of its reach and to share information with the Oregon legislature, the OLCC hosted a one-day event of educational panels designed to highlight the importance of the state’s craft alcohol beverage industry and outline its effect on the state economy.

Participants included founders from Oregon’s wine, beer, and spirits industries, Oregon’s state economist and representatives from various craft beverage associations such as the Oregon Wine Board, Distillers Guild, Brewers Guild and Northwest Cider Board. Each presentation illustrated a different aspect of how wide Oregon’s craft alcohol industry reaches and how vital it is to sustaining a strong local economy – particularly workforce opportunities.

“The community really came together for this event,” says Steven Marks, Executive Director of the OLCC. “It turned out to be pretty significant.”

The panels were held in Bend, Oregon on September 12, 2014, featuring 17 speakers and attracting approximately 100 attendees from across the industry. The event was held for members of the Legislative Joint Interim Task Force on OLCC, along with OLCC commissioners for a joint public meeting. Four different panel presentations were offered, two of which were led by members of Oregon’s craft industry leaders and various boards/associations representing the beer, wine, cider, and spirits industries. The other two panels highlighted workforce opportunities and industry development in areas including agriculture, tourism, marketing, and hospitality.

An economist also spoke to the group about the industry’s overall economic impact. The Oregon Wine Board estimated that Oregon’s wine economy has a $2.7 billion impact across the state. The Oregon Brewers Guild estimated a $1.6 billion economic impact. In addition to revenue, the panels also highlighted the industry’s effect on the job market. The Oregon Craft Beverage Council estimated that breweries, distilleries and wineries across the state account for 20,350 total jobs.

Ultimately, the panels served as an excellent forum for bringing industry leaders together to talk about issues before both OLCC commissioners and legislators. It also gave people an opportunity to network and identify new opportunities for collaboration. Additionally, it created an opportunity to recognize the commission’s role an industry partner.

“We’ve had good relationships across the industry before, but this helped to solidify it,” says Ranee Niedermeyer, Legislative Director with the OLCC.

A major testament to the success of the panels is that, in the legislative session following the event,
several bills were introduced by members of the task force. As a result, legislation was passed that made significant improvements to the brewery and distillery industries.

Bill HB 2567 now permits distilleries to jointly operate tasting rooms, pour mixed tastes and drinks and
allows bulk transfer between distilleries. Bill SB 138 allows brewpubs to distribute up to 7,500 barrels of malt beverage annually, shifting the cap from production to distribution. And Bill SB 623 removes the cap for wineries that wish to hold full-commercial licenses, allowing them to sell beer, wine and spirits by the glass.

The panels also proved to be a valuable public relations tool for the commission. The event generated a lot of
local media coverage and has resulted in the OLCC being contacted by reporters more frequently to comment on news stories. Additionally, some of the panel presenters and attendees have since referred media to the OLCC, citing them as an additional source to contact for articles.

OLCC Commission Chair Rob Patridge says the panel event is reflective of a major cultural shift by the commission. While the OLCC continues to focus on social responsibility and enforcement, an additional goal is to collaborate more with industry leaders and identify ways to help ensure its success.

“If you look back to almost three years ago, we didn’t talk about anything in our press releases related to branding or industry,” Patridge says. “We changed our whole communications strategy to be more in line with the mindset of our industry partners, as well as with our community partners. This way of thinking has been in place for a while now and will continue to grow and evolve.”

Although the OLCC has no current plans to host another panel event, Patridge says the commission is brainstorming how to take industry collaboration to the next level, which will enhance its plans to expand retail liquor stores across the state in the coming years.

“The most important thing is to continue fostering the sense of the OLCC not just being a regulator, but being a partner,” he says. “That’s what’s important, and that’s what we succeeded at here.”

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