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Labor Day’s Missing Message


Well, here we are again, that three-day weekend that marks the unofficial end of summer. That is what most Americans think of when they think at all about Labor Day.  For a large number of American workers, both white and blue collar, Labor Day is about shopping, eating food, and drinking beer. Not that these things are bad, but there is a message missing from the Labor Day celebration.

According to a survey by Anheuser Busch, 214 million Americans (67%) plan to fire up the grill this year. The top 4 meat items on the grill are hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, and steak. Not surprisingly, the survey showed that a many of those barbecuers will drink a beer. 98M Americans (44% of barbecue-goers) will drink an ice-cold domestic beer, while only 49M (22%) will drink an imported beer. According to the survey at a Labor Day BBQ, those drinking domestic beer are perceived as more “genuine and approachable.” Frankly, I am not sure what the heck that means. The fact is, however, that sales of imported beer significantly outpace sales of domestic beer. The folks at Budweiser assume that a “domestic” beer means a Bud. In reality, it more likely means a craft beer, brewed locally. Ironically, most of the big national brewers are now actually owned by international holding companies. So while the beer is brewed here, the profits go elsewhere.

The craft brewing industry is exploding. There are over 90 local breweries in Indiana and more opening all the time.  The craft beer industry in the Hoosier State has grown at a rate that has even outpaced the biofuels sector. In Ohio, lawmakers passed a bill that eliminated the maximum permitted alcohol content of beer. The law, which went into effect last week, repeals the 12 percent alcohol by volume limit in Ohio. The legislation is directly relates to craft breweries, and local officials are hoping that change ties into the potential for economic development. Currently, there are over 150 local breweries in Ohio generating over 1.5 billion dollars in sales.

Nationally, craft beer sales have been growing at double-digit rates for the past several years and, as of 2014, accounted for 11% of the U.S. beer market. It is expected craft beer will account for 20% of the U.S. beer market by 2020. This growth is having an impact on agriculture since the main ingredients in beer are grains and hops.  Traditionally, hops have only been grown in western states; but, with the overwhelming demand, more and more local farmers are trying their hand at growing hops to meet the demand of local brewers.

Talk about a local food movement — you can grow the ingredients, process them, and consume them all in one community. IUPUI in Indianapolis is now even offering classes in brewery management. It is estimated that craft brewers currently provide an estimated 424,000 jobs in the U.S.

But, what does this have to do with Labor Day? Simply this: while labor and labor unions have had a lot to do with the economic might of this country, it is innovation and individual entrepreneurs that have really made us great. Individuals coming up with ideas and turning them into businesses are the real success stories. Small businesses built this nation; and, today, craft breweries, catering to changing American tastes for beer, are keeping that tradition alive. Whether it is farmers down a county road, merchants on Main Street in the county seat, or craft brew houses popping up in small towns and big cities, innovation and small business is the key to what Labor Day is really all about.

If you spent your Labor Day grilling meat and drinking craft beer, the labor movement had little or nothing to do with your celebration. It was the independent American farmer and the local entrepreneur that put the meat on your grill and the beer in your glass. So eat up and drink up — because neither the farmers nor the entrepreneurs have federal holidays.

By Gary Truitt