Wisconsin beer industry contributes billions to local economy

LA CROSSE, Wis. - In 2012, beer production in Wisconsin contributed billions of dollars to the state's economy through retail, jobs and wages, but could one of the state's top economic contributors do more bad than good?

It's a passion that Joe Katchever has been brewing for about 15 years.

"We're growing every year, and hiring new people and selling more beer," said Katchever.

He's the owner of the Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse. His brewery is one of hundreds in the state that help contribute billions of dollars to the local economy every year.

"We're happy to hire local people," said Katchever. "We use Wisconsin malt, we use Wisconsin hops and we support a lot of other side industries here in the state and in La Crosse, and we're all about being local."

In 2012, the Beer Institute reported breweries in Wisconsin supported more than 60,000 jobs that paid more than $2 billion in wages. Combine that with totals in retail sales as well as taxes collected, and the beer industry contributed $8,653,236,800 to the state's economy.


At the same time, a study from the University of Wisconsin shows Wisconsin as the top binge drinking state in the U.S. It also said the state loses about $6.8 billion annually because of excessive drinking.

"(It contributes to) loss of productivity, health, accidents, criminal justice, a lot of different categories," said Keith Lease, the executive director of Coulee Council on Addiction.

Lease said the results aren't so much because of the alcohol, but rather the misconception between recreational use and abuse.

"We mistake social and recreational use, which is a good thing," said Lease. "It's having that glass of wine, having that beer. It loosens us up without really any of the consequences (like) people aren't blacking out or getting really hung over, things like that."

And if consumed responsibly, Katchever said beer can do more than just help the state's economy.

"Drinking beer is being able to taste someone else's artwork and critique it, and kind of be a part of the community," said Katchever.

Lease said the definition of binge drinking is about five or more drinks in one sitting for a man and four for a woman.

The nationwide economic impact of the beer industry in 2012 was more than $246.5 billion.

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