Saturation

Michigan has a lot of breweries. A little over 100 at the time of this writing with more coming in all the time. I know, that does sound like a lot doesn’t it. San Diego County in California has over 60, just in San Diego County. Changes your perspective a little doesn’t it?

Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and Ann Arbor Michigan have a good concentration of the breweries of Michigan. But not all of them. There is still room to grow. These cities have no where near the number of breweries of a place like Denver, or Portland or even San Diego. Granted those are some larger cities but that isn’t the issue.

You see, we have talked about the craft beer bubble on several occasions. This belief that one day we will reach a point where we will have so many breweries that the ability to make money from them will crash and the market will end. You should know my feeling on this whole thing (It’s hogwash). But there is an offshoot of this belief I want to talk about right now.

I warn you now, I am going to approach this in a round about way. There is a point, but its buried under some thoughts.

At one time, Michigan was the automobile capital of the world. Hell, Detroit (or what’s left of it) was called the Motor City for the big reason of the Big Three auto makers. For a variety of reasons the market changed. It didn’t crash, don’t think I am bringing anything like that up.

The market changed. Sure the rise of Asian manufacturers helped to spur it along but that isn’t the only thing that happened. Without digging through the briars and brambles of all that I will cut the long story down a little.

You see in the 90s the tide of change was crashing to the shore of manufacturing. The world was changing and the affects of this change were really starting to show themselves. The Big Three no longer had the power they once had. Plants closed, jobs were lost. The tide pulled back to the sea leaving devastation on Michigan’s economy. The biggest change was Michigan was no longer a manufacturing economy, at least not like it once was.

Those of us in Michigan who have lived through all of this know the truth of it. Michigan is one of the economies hardest hit by the changes that have happened over the last 20 or so years.

Something else happened in the mid to late 80s and early 90s. The craft food and craft beer movement was starting to spread further across the country. Some people were early adopters. Larry Bell might not have realized exactly what he was starting in 1985 when he made his first batch of commercial beer in downtown Kalamazoo. That was a shot that rang throughout the state. Today there are a good number of Michigan breweries and brewers who thank Larry for the work he started.

But this isn’t just about Larry Bell or his brewery or a love letter to Michigan beer. You might be better to see this as a call to action. You see, there are changes happening in this state and in this country in how the economy is built.

There are some right now who have the vision to see into the future. They may not realize it right now. These small brewers or even the small shop and restaurant owners are part of a larger movement happening all around us.

I read something recently, something that really got under my skin. There was an article about the breweries opening in Kalamazoo, and someone mentioned that they were afraid of saturation killing off new ones coming in because the city wouldn’t be able to support them. Aside from this thought being similar to the crap thought of a “beer bubble,” there was another reason I was annoyed with it.

The thought of saturation is incredibly short sighted. Michigan’s economy is changing. Many in the state are now embracing something that the state has always been good for. Michigan is a huge tourism state. This at one time was eclipsed by our ability to build cars. But the truth of the matter is there is quite a bit to offer visitors to the state. A good part of that is the growing number of breweries and with them restaurants.

This isn’t something that will happen overnight. When you think about it, the economy didn’t crash over night either. It is something that will be a few years down the road. It will be built by those who take the time to support the newbies coming in.

The real winners over the long haul will be the ones who plan now for the future of where they can be. The change is coming, nothing we can do to stop that. Where will you want to be when it happens?

Time for a pint…

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5 thoughts on “Saturation

    • It’s funny, people don’t think anything of wines produced with the same grapes by different vintners. Seriously, how many different versions of merlot are there? But when it comes to breweries people question everything.

      And for you, California is an auto manufacturing state too. There have been quite a few changes within the state over the past 20 years.

      Tourism is an industry on the rise throughout much of the country.

  1. The town I grew up in would have gone under when a lot of the silver mines closed down, but the wise decision was made to develop its appeal for the tourism crowd. In that sense, I like my hometown more now than I did as a kid, not just because I’m older, but because they got their act together and played to their strong points. Alas, people still follow a huge beach ball down the creek between Mullan and Wallace once a year while drinking lots of beer…

  2. I agree with you. Change with the times to survive. Wine, beer, whatever… They key point is to provide what people want in the form they want it in. Craft beer and tourism seem like they would go hand-in-hand. You need lots of variety to satisfy that market.

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