"Jobs, jobs, jobs."
"A laser-like focus on jobs."
These are recurring refrains heard from St. Paul. Whether it's Gov. Mark Dayton or GOP legislative leaders, all claim to want to take down state barriers to economic development and job growth.
Well, they'll soon have a chance to prove it.
A bill likely to be introduced in the Legislature next week would amend a state statute on brewery operations.
If it's adopted, the Surly Brewing Co. plans to build a new brewery and event center that would house a 250-seat restaurant, bar and roof deck. Surly's beer would only be sold on tap, and the brewer would not sell liquor or wine.
Unlike with smaller brewpubs such as Rock Bottom in Minneapolis, current state laws don't allow a brewer of Surly's size to offer on-site drinking. The outdated limitation also impacts other Minnesota breweries in the same size classification, including Summit in St. Paul and Schell's in New Ulm.
And here's why that law should be changed: Surly would invest $20 million in the facility and hire 150 people to work in the brewery, restaurant and bar. Surly estimates that as many as 85 construction jobs would be created.
The Brooklyn Center brewery's need to expand is a result of skyrocketing sales.
Since its start five years ago, sales have increased 1,272 percent, and there's a waiting list for bars and liquor stores to sell its brews. Surly has stopped selling in three other states in order to meet Minnesota demand.
Unless the law is changed, Minnesota is missing a job-creating opportunity here. Almost half the states allow a version of what Surly is seeking, and many, like Colorado and California, have a burgeoning business in "destination brewery" tourism.
As with any change, this one is being met with resistance. The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association in particular has taken a strong stand against it, said Frank Ball, the organization's executive director. He promises some "pretty heavy-duty lobbying."
The MLBA is chiefly concerned that Surly's plans would conflict with what Ball calls the "three-tiered system" that separates manufacturing, distribution and retailing in the beer business.
But Omar Ansari, founder and president of Surly, calls his request an "adjustment" to the system. If granted the legislative change, he would no longer be eligible to self-distribute.
Surly would have to work with a distributor, which would further integrate the brewery into the traditional three-tiered system. "We're asking for changes to the system -- we're not looking to dismantle the system," Ansari said.
Ideally, Ansari would have worked in partnership with his fellow brewers at Summit and Schell's in advocating for the change.
Both are significantly larger than Surly and make considerable contributions to their communities and to local and state tax bases. All brewers in the same size category could benefit from updated legislation.
Minnesota needs jobs, and Surly wants to create them. The company is not asking for a tax break or public subsidy: It just wants an opportunity to invest in Minnesota.
If this Legislature is serious about job creation, here's a chance to exercise that laser-like focus.