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Beer is still a job creator

We really owe a debt of gratitude to beer, in particular to microbrewers.

Saint Arnold Brewing Co., the city’s oldest craft, has 43 employees and is in the midst of hiring at least three more, founder Brock Wagner said. That is about double the staff before production shifted to a new brewery with more capacity 2½ years ago.

“We’ve been able to turn it into a place where you can have a career,” Wagner said, noting such benefits as fully paid health care, a generous 401(k)-match program and paid vacations.

The employment growth is actually greater considering that several volunteers who used to help set up Saturday tours at the original brewery were given paid part-time positions to handle the weekday and Saturday tours at the new place.

Karbach Brewing, which marked its one-year anniversary Sept. 1, already has tripled its staff, from the original seven.

“Obviously, our growth was higher than anticipated,” marketing chief David Graham said.

An ongoing boom in craft-beer sales is boosting hiring nationwide.

In a speech during last month’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper noted this statistic from the Colorado Brewers Guild: While craft beer accounts for less than 5 percent of beer produced in that state, the 150 craft breweries there provide 64 percent of the brewing jobs.

That’s because major breweries, like Houston’s Anheuser-Busch plant, produce millions of barrels annually, compared with the Saint Arnolds and Karbachs in the tens of thousands of barrels. The difference in scale enables the big players to utilize a lot of cost-saving efficiencies.

In contrast, said Dave Fougeron, founder of Conroe-based Southern Star Brewing, “We do things backward and slow.”

Fougeron and other supporters say this laborious process results in better-tasting beers and more diversity for consumers.

In other words, the big breweries rely on automation, while the microbreweries rely on people. That’s a formula for more jobs, many of which are for skilled people. This story refers to a study of the economic impact of microbreweries, which could be a lot if the Legislature would finally do something about those archaic restrictions on selling beer. The microbrewers have a strategy, and they’ve done a good job getting their story told in the media. It’s got to happen one of these days, doesn’t it?

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