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On The Scene: Wyden's beer bash

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On the Scene
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

BY EMMA HALL

Members of the Oregon craft brewing community sat facing each other at Hopworks Urban Brewery last Friday, Portland's modern-day knights of the round table.  These representatives of one of Oregon's most important and growing industries were there to meet with Sen. Ron Wyden about his proposed legislation that would lower federal taxes on craft beer.

There were 20 people from the craft brewing community present, including members of the Oregon Brewers Guild as well as supply manufacturers, local companies that provide everything from malt to stainless steel brewing equipment to plastic six pack holders.

wyden
Sen. Wyden addresses the craft brew community

Wyden addressed the gathered brewers, and explained that he is trying to drive home the point that they are an important and exciting part of the Oregon economy.

Over a burger and chips, Wyden said that craft brewing was important to Oregon because it is such a big economic multiplier.

"This industry affects so many others: hop fields, constructing breweries, beer distributors, even exporting into China," Wyden said.  "We have a big opportunity here in Oregon to take this and multiply it."

According to the Oregon Brewers Guild, Oregon has 80 brewing companies with 108 breweries.  With 34, Portland has the highest concentration of craft brewing companies in the world.  Statewide, the craft brewing industry has a $2.3 billion economic impact.

Wyden aims to help the brewers by cutting in half federal excise taxes on the first 60,000 barrels, in order to stimulate investment and create jobs.  He hopes to lower the tax per barrel from the current $7 to $3.50.

Lowering the tax would give back $44 million to the 1,500 craft breweries in the nation (no Oregon figures were provided).  Brewers could use the money for reinvestment, which in turn could create more jobs in an industry that employs 4,700 statewide, according to Wyden's office.

"[When this legislation goes through] it will be a good day for those people downstairs enjoying the good brews," Wyden said, motioning to the Hopworks customers a floor below.  "But it will also be a good day for the economy."

The excise tax hasn't been changed since 1991, as long as most of the brewers could recall.  Wyden said it was outdated. 

Wyden also used the chance to sit down with the brewers to hear what other concerns they had with their businesses.

Many local brewers expressed their array of concerns with the government.  Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi said he was worried that John Kitzhaber would raise the tax on beer if he were elected governor. 

"Even though I'm not in charge of state laws and rules, if the federal government can take this industry and do good things [for it], why would Salem take this and create more taxes and fees at State level?" Wyden told the brewers. 

Art Larrance of Cascade Brewing expressed displeasure with the monthly reports brewers are required to turn in, which he called busywork.  Other brewers and supply manufacturers echoed his concern about confusing paperwork that they felt was a waste of time and money.

Wyden assured the brewers that he was hearing all of their concerns, and implored them to call his office when they had questions or complaints about federal taxes or governmental requirements on their businesses.

"Remember, we think you guys represent an opportunity to help the economy and provide jobs," Wyden said.  "So we want to help you."

Emma Hall is web editor for Oregon Business.

 
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