The decision on whether South Carolina will be picked for Stone Brewing Co.’s multimillion-dollar eastward expansion will likely be on hold at least through the middle of July — but one feature, the state’s Lowcountry ports system, will be a factor, a company representative says.
The company’s founder and CEO, Greg Koch, is currently on sabbatical, said Jason Selby, the San Diego-area brewery’s representative for South Carolina.
“I just can’t imagine us making a decision before Greg got back from the sabbatical, which should be the middle of July,” he said.
And contrary to published reports in other media, the nation’s 10th-largest craft brewer hasn’t selected a list of finalists, Selby said.
“There’s no official word on where we’re going,” Selby said. “There’s no official place that’s in, place that’s out. Everyone is still in play, as far as I know, to get the brewery here.”
And by “everyone,” Selby said he can only say “everyone in the United States east of the Mississippi.”
“They’ve been on the East Coast for months going around and shaking hands, kissing babies and looking at locations and doing what you do when you are looking to invest over $100 million into a piece of property,” he said.
The rep’s comments were part of a panel of Upstate brewers — R.J. Rockers, Thomas Creek, Brewery 85, Swamp Rabbit and Quest — speaking this week at a GSA Business Power Event convention.
Earlier this spring, several communities across South Carolina — including Greenville — responded to Stone’s “request for proposals” for a $31 million investment that the company says will lead to more than $100 million in annual revenue.
Recently, economic developers in the Myrtle Beach area announced that they were no longer considered a candidate for expansion.
The effort has been backed by the state Department of Commerce, and lawmakers last month overhauled the state’s beer-production laws to attract the company — even naming the legislation the “Stone Bill.”
The overhaul was necessary to make legal what Stone wants to do: operate a large-scale production brewery to meet East Coast demand in conjunction with a restaurant on site that would market the facility as a tourist destination.
The new facility “would literally sustain entire East Coast distribution,” Selby said, which includes exports to Europe and, in a particularly hot market for Stone, Puerto Rico.
Currently, the product sent to Puerto Rico is shipped from Stone’s plant in Escondido, California, and loaded onto a refrigerated cargo ship at a port in Jacksonville, Florida, he said.
Shipping takes about three weeks, diminishing the quality of the product as it’s exposed to changes in light, temperature and moisture.
A move to South Carolina would change that, Selby said.
“South Carolina has amazing ports,” he said, “so I would hope that that would change if we were in this state, because I know Charleston could definitely handle any kind of numbers that we could throw out.”
“Every day that I send an email,” he said, “I put a blurb at the end saying, ‘Please, come to South Carolina.’”