The rebound in the March jobs report coupled with months of tremendous progress reducing U.S. unemployment is a reminder that policy makers must always keep growth and hiring top of mind. As members of the National Beer Wholesalers Association arrive in Washington, D.C. this week for our annual legislative conference, we are proudly briefing members of Congress about why our industry is a model for creating opportunity where it’s needed most.
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Independent beer distributors operate in every state and congressional district across the country. More than 3,000 wholesalers—primarily family-owned and always community-oriented—employ 141,000 Americans, whose hard work earns them a total of $9.4 billion in wages and salaries each year. In an era of job-hopping, these career-track positions with benefits still offer the opportunity for promotion and advancement.
The beer industry, in which competition is fortified by a three-tier system – which separates production, distribution and retail – is keeping jobs in rural areas, underserved communities, Main Street and downtown locations we call home. While some of these locales have been left behind by the modern economy, independent beer distributors have not and will not turn our backs on these communities of hard-working Americans.
The American system of alcohol distribution has become the best in the world for two reasons. First, distributors act behind the scenes to guarantee the supply chain delivers only high-quality, safe, legal, traceable products consumers can trust. The problems of tainted alcohol and illegal bootlegging common in other countries are all but unheard of here, and that is because of independent distribution.
Second, the system is admired by other sectors whose entrepreneurs and small businesses want the same equal shot at success. Beer wholesalers foster competition in the beer market, advocating for each product on their beer trucks. They handle logistics so small brewers do not have to, educate package store and pub owners about exciting new beers and prepare front-line staff to recommend pilsners and porters, stouts and steam beers to suit each customer’s palate.
The outcome is a thriving beer market, which has grown from 49 breweries in the 1980s to nearly 7,000 today. Distributors now deliver over 13,000 different labels] to more than 600,000 licensed retailers, maximizing consumer choice and ensuring there is a beer for even the most discerning patron.
This growth of choice and variety is not just good for finding a new flavor next to a familiar favorite in the beer aisle. Craft breweries are launching and expanding across the country, frequently where opportunity is desperately needed. For example, of the 140 breweries now operating in Maine, about 50 are sited in rural communities. And in more urban neighborhoods, like Birmingham and Mobile, Ala., breweries are launching in previously blighted downtown areas, attracting restaurants, entertainment venues and tourists across the board.
America’s independent beer distributors are proud to be part of the community fabric and give hundreds of millions of dollars each year to philanthropic and non-profit organizations of all sizes. The names of these family-owned businesses frequently show up as financial supporters at numerous local community events, and you’ll probably find one of our members at a table at the next charity dinner you attend.
These are the messages that independent beer distributors will be sharing with members of Congress this week, while exchanging ideas over a pint on how to best maximize the positive community impact on jobs, prosperity, revitalization and civic strength. While restaurants, pubs and other licensed retailers serve beer to millions of thirsty customers, independent beer distributors truly serve America.
Craig Purser is president and CEO of the National Beer Wholesalers Association in Alexandria, VA.