Macon Beer Co. owners share frustrations with secretary of state

pramati@macon.comJune 23, 2014 

County_Line

Secretary of State Brian Kemp, pictured here in 2011, visited Macon Beer Co. on Monday on a trip to learn about issues facing small businesses.

WOODY MARSHALL — wmarshall@macon.com

As part of his efforts to learn about issues that small businesses across Georgia face, Secretary of State Brian Kemp visited Macon Beer Co. Monday afternoon.

Co-owners Cory Smith and Jeremy Knowles gave Kemp a tour of the company, showing how the beer is brewed and how much effort they’ve put into reclaiming the old building on Oglethorpe Street -- especially the red tape involved.

For example, even though Monday’s high temperature reached the upper 80s, the company isn’t required to have an air-conditioning unit. The owners had to spend about $10,000 to put in a heating unit, however, in case the temperature in the building falls below 68 degrees. It’s a state law.

Because Georgia has what’s called a “three-tier system,” Macon Beer Co. can’t set up a bar at its headquarters and simply sell beer by the glass like a regular pub. Nor can the company sell directly to a restaurant or bar that wants to carry one of the company’s three flavors. (A fourth will be introduced next month during Bragg Jam.)

Beer has to go from the brewer to a wholesaler, who then sells it to a retailer. That creates an extra set of logistical problems for both his own company and the wholesaler, Knowles said.

He said that for the Rookery on Cherry Street to buy beer from Macon Beer, the beer has to be shipped to Atlanta and then delivered back to Macon, even though the restaurant and brewer are just a few blocks apart.

Smith said the business has grown to the point that it’s nearly breaking even, but he and Knowles still don’t take salaries. Taxes, however, have gone up 138 percent for the business since it opened nearly a year ago.

“In our industry, there’s a lot of regulation stuff to go through at this point,” Smith said. “It’d be nice if it was streamlined. Some (government) entities don’t understand what the others are doing, so there’s a lot of duplication of work.”

Kemp said that as a small business owner himself, he can sympathize with what the owners are going through. There’s little his office can do, though, since changes would have to come from the state Legislature.

Kemp said about 700,000 businesses register with his office each year, and 95 percent of them have 50 or fewer employees.

“Georgia was built on the backs of small business,” he said.

He said every government agency needs to be monitoring the amount of regulation that goes on and cut back if it’s unnecessary.

Knowles and Smith pointed out that North Carolina, which has eased up on its regulations, has seen an increase in the number of microbreweries. Conversely, Florida has increased its regulation, driving many microbrewers from the state.

“We want to turn Georgia into what North Carolina, South Carolina is. We know what the beer culture here is,” Smith said. “Our dream is to turn Georgia into that.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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