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Breweries become big moneymaker for San Diego

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The next time you belly up to the bar to belt down a beer at a busy brew pub, consider this: The lager you’re lugging may lead to the latest lift for the local economy.

Brew pubs and brewers are rapidly emerging as a key growth industry for San Diego County, generating nearly $300 million in direct economic impact, employing more than 1,600 workers and indirectly supporting 1,100 other jobs, according to a report released in late April by National University’s Institute for Policy Research.

In the past three years alone, 40 brewery licenses have been issued in San Diego County, giving the region more than twice as many breweries as its two closest rivals in California: Los Angeles and Sonoma counties.

And the impact goes beyond pubs and bars. The city now hosts 10 major beer events per year, headed by San Diego Beer Week in November and San Diego International Beer Festival in June, which draw nearly 30,000 attendees.

“Craft brewers are creating jobs, tourism visits and tax revenue at a time when the region continues to slog through its economic recovery,” said the report. “While the industry’s meteoric growth rate isn’t expected to continue indefinitely, stronger partnerships and greater research may yield more economic benefits for both San Diego and the brewing community.”

During a seminar on craft brewing at the University of California, San Diego earlier this year, Chris Cramer, chief executive of Karl Strauss, said that one reason San Diego has become such a fertile breeding ground for brewers is its spirit of “coopetition” -- a combination of cooperation and competition between people who are in the business mainly because they love beer.

The craft brewing industry got off to a relatively slow start in the county, starting with a few pioneers like Bolt Brewery, Karl Strauss and Mission Brewery in the late 1980s and Ballast Point and Stone Brewing in the late 1990s.

But over the past several years, the business has taken off, thanks partly to people looking for new careers during the Great Recession. Last year, the industry generated a total of $681 million in sales, led by Stone Brewing Co. of Escondido, which ranked as the 10th best-selling craft brewery in the nation, followed by brewers Karl Strauss at 39th and Ballast Point at 56th, according to a listing by the national Brewers Association earlier this month.

That sales growth has created more job opportunities.

Stone Brewing lists more than 30 job openings on its website, ranging from truck drivers and cooks to graphic artists and social media strategist, in addition to at least 12 jobs at its soon-to-open 22,000-square-foot brew pub and restaurant at Liberty Station.

For many of the openings, one of the chief qualifications is that the candidate must have a passion for beer. “The ideal candidate will be a craft beer enthusiast ("beer geek"),” reads Stone’s posting for an art director. The company’s posting for a sales rep specifies that the candidate “must have a passion for craft beer as well as being well-connected to the craft brewing community in the craft beer marketplace.”

At the UCSD seminar, Karl Strauss' Cramer said that his company gets so many job applicants -- sometimes 300 or 400 for a single job -- that he can be selective in hiring.

“If you’re going to be in the beer industry for the long haul, you have to love it almost as much as a significant other,” said Cramer, whose firm has job openings in brewing, marketing, bottling and accounting, among others.

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