Friday, October 31, 2008

Leinie's Now Has Even More Influence In Wisconsin

Not sure where I was on this one. But behind my back Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle has appointed Dick Leinenkugel as the Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce. So, the legendary brewing family now has its claws firmly in the state commercial system. Miller should be happy. Honestly, his bio is a bit scattered: he's the fifth generation brewing Leinenkugel, but went into the Marines after college, and then to a sports marketing firm in Chicago, he went back to the brewery right around the time that it was sold to Miller and then worked for Miller for a time, then back to the brewery where he was Vice President of Sales and Marketing. He's also a Minnesota Twins fan (traitor!).

Snarkiness aside, it's hard to see from here what the full impact of this is going to be. It's probably best to look at what power the Secretary of Commerce holds and what changes/policies can be effected. According to the Commerce website: "[The Wisconsin Department of Commerce] provides development assistance in areas such as marketing, business and community finance, exporting, small business advocacy, and manufacturing assessments. The agency issues professional credentials for the construction trades and administers safety and building codes. It also regulates petroleum products and tank systems and administers the Petroleum Environmental Clean-up Fund."

So, he putting aside everything else, what this means for the Wisconsin craft brewing industry. The man who everyone talks about behind his back for claiming that Leinenkugel's is "craft" beer - the one who everyone (and by "everyone" I mean "me") claims is deluding the Wisconsin, Midwest, and indeed American public by claiming that Leinie's somehow has some sort of "artistic" or "craft" merit - the one who has the temerity and, well, cajones, to pawn off the Summer Shandy and the "fruit" wheat beers as anything greater than the slightly-more-respectable-than-alcopop that they are - this man is now in charge of getting you your small business development assistance. You should really hope what you said about him and his company doesn't get back to him. You should also hope that he reigns with a compassionate fist and not one that looks to keep "competition" for his company out of the market by making it hard for small breweries to get the small business assistance that they need. Indeed, even if the Wisconsin Brewers Guild were active (and, to my knowledge it is not), it is hard to see how they could ever accomplish anything without the "Leinenkugel's Stamp of Approval."

On the other hand, he could see this as an opportunity to help out the industry that could single-handedly keep Wisconsin-ites employed and raise the stature of this state. Small breweries and brewpubs employ a lot of people in an export industry - brewers, assistant brewer, bar folks, service staff, managers, bottlers, etc. The periphery industries - distribution, retail, etc. - employ even more. It is great blue-collar work for those who have lost their blue-collar jobs to cheaper labor. Wisconsin already has a great reputation for its breweries, keeping competition active only creates more incentive to stay creative and produce high-quality craft beer. Tyranena, Furthermore, Lakefront, even New Glarus - these are not "competition" to Leinenkugel's - in fact, I would argue, the more craft breweries and craft beer that is sold, the more Leinie's sells.

Mr. Leinenkugel could really take this opportunity to boost the Wisconsin economy and craft beer industry by encouraging communities to work with and develop their craft breweries and brewpubs. We talked about the West Bend Chamber of Commerce requesting that a restaurant open as a brewpub - he could be encouraging communities to be doing the same thing by providing economic assistance packages for providing development incentives to small brewers. He could provide incentives to farmers to develop hop fields and barley fields to grow Wisconsin's agricultural base. He could make craft brewing one of the cornerstones of Wisconsin's tourism, and agri-tourism, industry by actively encouraging its promotion to our fellow Midwestern tourists.

So, as you can see, there's a lot of benefit that can come from a Dick Leinenkugel reign as Wisconsin's Secretary of the Commerce. Let's hope he uses his powers for good, and not evil.

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