The Coast News Group

Crafting North County — Vista: An economic model for North County craft beer

Over the last few years, craft brewing in San Diego has dramatically increased, creating thousands of new jobs and fostering millions of dollars in new investment. If North County leaders can support industry collaboration, greater industry growth and activity will be drawn to our part of the region.

Without question, craft brewing has been good for the North County economy. According to a key report by the National University System Institute for Policy Research, craft brewing in North County had a $272 million economic impact in 2013, generating $185 million in total annual sales across a broad spectrum of industry enterprises, and directly employing 850 workers.

The report found that while the industry was generally supported across cities and unincorporated communities north of the 52, one city stood out as unique among its peers for its supportive efforts.

The most active North County area for craft brewing is Vista.

As of March 2015, Vista has 10 breweries, with four more to open by the end of the year.

Overall, one out of 10 breweries in the county is based in Vista.

According to Melody Campbell, the Chair of the Vista Brewers Guild, the City of Vista has more breweries per capita than Portland, Oregon.

Much of the success of Vista brewing can be attributed to a unique public-private partnership. Early on, city officials took a pro-active approach to supporting the industry. Most notably, the city of Vista helped establish the Vista Breweries Guild in 2012 to work with the industry as a whole.

The Guild, which meets monthly, facilitates dialogue and collaboration between the City and brewery owners on common goals – promoting Vista and industry growth.

According to Kevin Ham, Director of Economic Development at the City of Vista, this partnership has fostered positive change for the local industry.

City ordinances were changed, allowing tasting rooms in industrial zones, and permitting food trucks in business parks so long as tasting rooms are open. In 2012, the City Council unanimously approved live entertainment permits for breweries, allowing live acoustic music in tasting rooms.

City officials also worked with federal authorities to enable brewers to ship overseas, and connected brewers with beverage store giant BevMo! to sell more of their beer to consumers. The City continues to work with the Guild and its members on local and state legislation.

Strong communication and collaboration has helped generate industry investment in Vista, creating good-paying jobs ($39,000 average) and a more vibrant and diverse economic climate. Why not the rest of North County? If elected officials in neighboring communities followed suit, job creation and economic activity could reach every corner of our part of the region.

Vince Vasquez is a think tank analyst for National University, which is based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.