Friday, October 13, 2017

Craft breweries can revitalize small-town economies, attract millennial residents

Chris Hernstrom at the Bolo Beer Co. in Valentine, Neb. (NPR photo by Kirk Siegler)
Small-town revitalization can come from many sources; why not beer? Small-town economies all over the Midwest are getting a lift from microbreweries, and maybe helping attract millennials to live there. One of those towns is Valentine, Nebraska, a town of 2,700 in Cherry County, the state's largest in land area. Chris Hernstrom was once a brewer in Bend, Oregon, but decided to open up the Bolo Beer Co. in Valentine. "It just seemed like an interesting challenge to come out to basically the exact opposite of Bend, some place where the brewing industry is still in its fledgling stages," Hernstrom told NPR's Kirk Siegler. Many of his customers are Millennials who love living in a small town but crave city amenities. Some are completely new to town, but many moved back after college or living in a city.

Cherry County, Nebraska
(Wikipedia map)
"While it's probably too early to call it a trend, what is happening in Valentine is part of a broader cultural phenomenon in rural America," Siegler reports. "Young people who grew up in small towns and have been watching them struggle from afar are feeling this calling to come home."

Valentine's 35-year-old mayor, Kyle Arganbright, is himself a recently repatriated resident. Valentine was already doing fairly well, with a thriving agricultural economy and plenty of tourists drawn to the nearby Sand Hills. But Arganbright says he sees a lot of opportunity in Valentine, and sees the brewery as a springboard for that--in fact, he and a friend are two of Bolo's main investors, Siegler reports. "If you're not growing, you're dying," he told Siegler. "You can't sit there stagnant, particularly when all these urban populations are exploding."

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