We need to attract, keep businesses here

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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I was disappointed we had to run a story April 18 (front page, “Brewery plans to get Knee Deep in Auburn”) about Knee Deep Brewing Company relocating soon from Lincoln to Auburn.

Although I don’t drink beer, several friends enjoy a glass or two.

And Knee Deep helped make our downtown a destination by having a brewery here that earns awards. Last year, Knee Deep’s Hoptologist Double IPA won a gold medal and its Citra X Pale Ale won a bronze award at an annual festival this month in Hayward.

Knee Deep Brewing Company leaving is our loss and Auburn’s gain.

The company has brewed and bottled beer in Lincoln since April 2011, utilizing the brewing equipment in back of the Beermann’s Restaurant building on Fifth Street. The company, now headquartered in Lincoln, opened in 2010 in Reno, Nev.

According to our April 18 story, Knee Deep produced about 1,800 barrels in Lincoln last year, equaling about $1 million in sales but its downtown facility can’t keep up with increasing demand.

 “We’ve had to turn down, or put on hold, distributors in easily a dozen states so far,” Knee Deep CEO Jerry Moore was quoted last week. He expects the Auburn location will enable Knee Deep to substantially grow. By 2014, brewmaster Jeremy Warren was quoted, Knee Deep expects to make 9,000-plus barrels a year.

The brewery partners want a 2,000-square-foot tasting room and periodic food truck events in Auburn. That should bring a lot of visitors to the venue, which will in turn help the Auburn economy in sales tax and in a reciprocal effect at other businesses.

With that said, what can we do to keep businesses in Lincoln? It’s hard enough to attract new ones to locate here in the current poor economy gripping the nation as well as our state and city.

According to Wayne Sisneroz, the city of Lincoln’s economic development committee (EDC) chairman, city representatives tried to keep Knee Deep here.

“There were a lot of folks, some from the EDC and some City Councilmen who tried to put Knee Deep in contact with Lincoln property owners for several months,” Sisneroz said. “We would have loved to keep them. I know some of the folks in the city will try to get Knee Deep back. You never know what will happen. For me, we hate to lose them but there's an ebb and flow to building economic development.”

Lincoln has an attractive regional airport, now with the convenience of being near the relatively new Highway 65 Bypass. I thought that area, along with other areas near the bypass, would have been great locations for an expanded Knee Deep facility.

“The city was working with Knee Deep to help them find space in Lincoln,” said Lincoln’s housing and special projects coordinator Amanda Norton. “In the end, the buildings which had the square footage to meet their needs did not have tall enough ceilings for their brewing equipment and the buildings that had tall enough ceilings were too large for their business needs.”

Sisneroz is optimist that Lincoln will attract more business owners, thanks to the economic development committee's strategic plan recently approved by City Council.

The committee’s Strategic Action Plan for Economic Growth was designed “to be an ever-evolving document,” according to Norton, that provides a framework to guide economic development activities in Lincoln.

“The plan has four focus areas: business retention and expansion, attract and grow new businesses, community outreach and creating a breakthrough. The idea is that we leverage the assets we have in order to increase the economic vitality of Lincoln,” Norton said. “In order to further the plan, the city hired Municipal Resource Group and will rely on the economic development committee to complete the various strategies in the plan.”

The committee is already working on the plan.

"Within the next 30 days, the first thing we'll do is get together with local businesses to do a questionnaire to find out what their needs are, what they like and don't like about doing business in Lincoln, and what they feel we can do better to help them," Sisneroz said. “We'll identify businesses that need help and put them in touch with the agencies such as lenders, marketing companies, merchandising companies. We don't have the funds to hire an economic development manager but we have to compete with surrounding areas.”

Sizneroz is confident that the economic development committee and city staff will quickly attract new businesses to Lincoln.

“We’re going to identify which companies want to move into an area with an airport next door,” Sizneroz said. “It’s just finding the right matches and going after them.”

But securing new businesses won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight.

“There’s a lot of work to be done but I feel we’re on an upswing,” Sizneroz said. “The city is receiving a lot of inquiries about what’s available, inquiries about our infrastructure. We’ll be working with existing businesses to help them grow and doing a lot of surveys and identifying at-risk businesses in town. We’ll create support groups for them.”

Norton agreed that interest is increasing.

“Our residential development is up dramatically from the previous year, we’ve had the same number of building permits pulled in the past three months as we did in the previous year,” Norton said. “Due to the upswing in residential development, commercial developers have been starting to inquire about Lincoln.”

With this type of effort starting, maybe we’ll just attract a new brewery and a new nightclub or two to our downtown.