Over the past several years, numerous craft breweries, wineries and distilleries have surfaced on the landscape of west-central Wisconsin. We all know we’ve been blessed with one of the most intriguing success stories in the brewing world, one that has changed the face of craft brewing and one that we take for granted at times — Leinenkugel’s — but now there is a whole lot more for the beverage enthusiast to indulge in.

From a personal standpoint, my wife and I like nothing better than driving the countryside on a beautiful summer day, top down, with a required stop being one of these establishments. The relaxing decor, often gorgeous scenery, not to mention a sample or two, and you find yourself in the middle of a little piece of heaven. Leaving with a purchase in hand, you probably don’t take the time to consider the positive effect these ventures have on the area, both in terms of their niche and support structure as well.

Just in regard to beer, with more than 4,000 breweries in the country, most of which are craft breweries, it is a significant business sector. This is up from around 2,700 in 2011 and just 50 in 1980. I dare say one of the, if not the, fasting growing non-tech related industries in the country.

If you look nationally from a jobs perspective, the beer industry had more than 420,000 employees, with 115,000 at the breweries. The rest are at support industries such as packaging, service providers, distribution and transportation and as we see in our area with the emergence of hops farms, agriculture as well. That can be quite the impact on the communities where these ventures are located as more jobs are created and money is put back into the community. According to an economic impact study conducted earlier this year, each job in the brewing industry creates 34 FTE’s in agriculture, manufacturing, wholesale and retail. Now those numbers do include the big nationwide brewing conglomerates, which make up only 1 percent of the total number of breweries in the country, but our collection of breweries obviously have a significant impact on our region, not to mention the distilleries and wineries.

Scaling back our view from a national level to the winery niche in the state of Wisconsin, according to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota in 2011, the winery and grape-growing industries in Wisconsin created nearly $120 million in economic impact. This included the support of more than 2,000 jobs paying almost $30 million in income. Vineyards alone contributed just shy of $6 million in economic activity, wineries over $65 million and winery tourists over $45 million. In a nutshell, we’re talking some serious numbers.

So next time you’re in the grocery store or passing one of our many craft breweries, wineries or distilleries, don’t feel the least bit guilty about indulging in a refreshing beverage. After all, you’re supporting the local economy! And quite honestly, after all those numbers, you could probably use a cold one.

Steve Jahn is executive director of Momentum West, a 10-county regional economic development corporation. Contact him at steve@momentumwest.org or 715-874-4673.

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