Tumwater and South Puget Sound Community College are pushing forward on a proposed craft brewing and distilling center that they believe could become a key cog in the county’s economy.
The biggest obstacle, however, is money. Tumwater is requesting $3 million from this year’s state capital budget to buy about 3.5 acres on Capitol Boulevard near the former Olympia Brewery site for the center.
It’s not guaranteed that Tumwater will get the money during this session. But if the city can buy the land, then the college will seek as much as $30 million in 2017 to build the brewing and distilling center on the property — and tap into a burgeoning industry.
Washington has more craft spirit distilleries than any other state, with about 110 and counting, according to the Washington Distillers Guild. The Brewers Association reports that as of 2014, Washington ranked second only to Oregon in craft breweries, with 256 — nearly double the number from 2011. Craft beer’s statewide economic impact was estimated at more than $1.6 billion in 2014.
With that in mind, the Tumwater proposal’s overall vision goes beyond alcohol to include tourism and industry-specific education, training and research. Aside from creating an estimated 662 jobs, stakeholders say the center also could have a positive effect on agriculture, including the production of hops and barley.
Tumwater City Administrator John Doan told The Olympian’s editorial board last week that the short-term goal, aside from buying land, is to create incentives for public and private investment in the brewery district. The city released a report in 2015 that provides a strategy for developing the district.
According to a contract, if the city buys the 3.5-acre parcel on Capitol Boulevard, the company Cinnabar Growth Capital has agreed to develop an adjacent 5.5-acre property with complementary uses such as restaurants and retail space.
“Our number one priority is to develop the brewery,” Doan said. “If the craft beer industry is growing that fast, then why not create a ‘center of excellence’ around brewing and distilling?”
Education is a key component of the proposal, which is modeled after Walla Walla’s thriving wine scene and its partnerships with Walla Walla Community College.
SPSCC President Timothy Stokes said the college can be a catalyst that takes the Tumwater center to the next level.
In fact, SPSCC has already begun to implement the plan. The college hosted the Cascadia Grains Conference on Jan. 9 and will team up with Olympia’s Fish Brewing Company to offer science classes for homebrewers in March. The college also plans to start installing brewing equipment on campus later this year to replace equipment from the now-defunct horticulture program.
The educational aspect has realistic applications on the business side of brewing, said Casey Sobol, co-founder of Top Rung Brewing in Lacey. As his operation grows, so does Sobol’s need to hire employees who know as much about wholesaling and retailing as they do about brewing.
“What’s been missing is the education component and quality control,” said Sobol, expressing his support for the proposal. “That’s a big piece that can be provided by this.”