After a long search for just the right site, California-based Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. chose North Carolina for its new $100 million brewery now serving as its East Coast headquarters.

The craft beer maker is one of the nation’s largest. It considered more than 200 sites in 2011 before settling on Mills River, a small town near Asheville and the Great Smoky Mountains.

The company liked a large wooded tract along the French Broad River, close to Interstates 26 and 40 and the Asheville Regional Airport. And it was drawn to North Carolina’s promise of a public-private partnership that offered everything it would need to succeed.

From the site to the partnerships to the people we found here, we recognized Western North Carolina offered the opportunity we were looking for. – Brian Grossman, Sierra Nevada

Among the attributes North Carolina offered were:

  • Good proximity to the eastern half of the United States, with more than 150 million people within a day’s drive.
  • Easy access to major transportation arteries including five interstate highways, four international airports, two deep-water seaports and the nation’s largest consolidated rail system.
  • Dependable source of water and affordable energy rates below the national average.
  • A workforce steeped in manufacturing, both traditional and advanced.
  • A business-friendly regulatory environment—with low taxes, performance-based incentives and the willing partnership of local and state-level officials—working with the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, which recruits new businesses and helps existing companies grow within the state.

“Everything about it just felt right,” said Brian Grossman, second generation brewer and son of Sierra Nevada’s founder Ken Grossman. “From the site to the partnerships to the people we found here, we recognized Western North Carolina offered the opportunity we were looking for. It allowed us to grow in an environmentally responsible way and meet increasing demand for our beer.”

Few sites could match Western North Carolina’s beauty and outdoor culture, Grossman said: It felt like home in Chico, Calif., the small town near the Sierra Nevada mountains where his father started the business in 1979 and had grown it to capacity.

The vitality he found in Asheville also helped tip the scales, with its progressive values and devotion to the environment.

“The Asheville vibe is alive,” Grossman said. “They’ve got a lot of good culture, arts, restaurants and a vibrant street scene – not to mention some really good beers on tap. I remember saying to myself: ‘I want to be part of that.’”

Sierra Nevada has enjoyed record sales since the North Carolina brewery came online in 2015, helping to produce the company’s flagship Pale Ale and dozens of other beers. The brewery employs 400 people and runs one of the busiest restaurants in the state, serving as many as 4,000 plates on a Saturday. Its popular taproom, brewery tours and natural setting drew more than 60,000 visitors in 2016.

“North Carolina gained a significant company, and Sierra Nevada gained a great place to live and work,” said Andrew Tate, CEO of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development. “They set high expectations, but in the end, it came down to two things: Do we have the product they want? And do we have the will to get this project done?

“The answer to both was yes,” Tate said.

Human and Natural Resources

Access to resources like water is critical for any manufacturer, but so is access to a skilled workforce that understands manufacturing – like the workers of North Carolina do.

- Andrew Tate, CEO of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development
Sierra Nevada

Two of Sierra Nevada’s highest priorities were finding high-quality talent and high-quality water – lots of water, the primary ingredient in beer.

The company planned to tap into Asheville’s municipal water lines but struck a dream source of natural water on site, which produces 160 gallons a minute, more than enough for its brew.

“Access to resources like water is critical for any manufacturer, but so is access to a skilled workforce that understands manufacturing – like the workers of North Carolina do,” said Tate.

North Carolina workers continue to support traditional manufacturers in furniture, textiles and agriculture, but have shifted to advanced manufacturing fields including aerospace and defense, automotive, biotechnology and information technology.

Grossman was delighted to find brewing expertise at area colleges: Both Blue Ridge Community College and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College added credentials in brewing, distillation and fermentation as the state’s beer culture has grown.

“One of the things we care most about is consistency,” Grossman said. “You have to be able to pick up a beer brewed in North Carolina and taste no difference from those brewed in Chico – or you’ll lose business.”

Business Environment

The location, the workers, the lifestyle all played a role, but what really stood out was the willingness of North Carolina’s official and unofficial leadership to partner with us on every step.

- Brian Grossman, Sierra Nevada
Sierra Nevada

North Carolina officials put together a robust package using job-creation grants, tax incentives, utility discounts and transportation grants that helped Sierra Nevada settle in the state.

The tax structure was appealing, too. In January 2017, North Carolina’s flat-rate personal income tax dropped to 5.5 percent, and its corporate income tax rate fell to 3 percent – the lowest in the country. Industrial electricity rates and construction costs also run well below national averages.

But Sierra Nevada’s decision wasn’t solely about money, said Grossman. In fact, other communities offered more aggressive financial incentives.

“We really looked at the whole package,” he said. “The location, the workers, the lifestyle all played a role, but what really stood out was the willingness of North Carolina’s official and unofficial leadership to partner with us on every step.”

For more on the North Carolina brewery, visit Sierra Nevada’s website.

Food and beverage processors and manufacturers are among a variety of industries expanding in North Carolina. From Sanderson Farms’ new $145 million poultry plant to Fortune 500 Sealed Air Corporation’s headquarters and food packaging operation, companies are finding what they need to succeed in North Carolina.

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