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US. Sierra Nevada considers plant site in Christiansburg area

California-based craft beer brewer Sierra Nevada has a site in the Christiansburg area on its short list of places for a $75 million to $100 million East Coast brewery.

The site is No. 2 on the company's list, behind one in Blount County, Tenn., about 90 miles south of Knoxville, said Bill Manley, communications director for the brewer. The site has a Christiansburg address, but Manley wasn't sure if it's in the town limits.

Sierra Nevada isn't fully committed to the expansion yet, Manley said, and will make a decision on whether to go forward -- and where -- within a month or so.

"The more we look," he said, "the more it makes sense."

Neither Beth Doughty of the Roanoke Regional Partnership nor Aric Bopp of the New River Valley Economic Development Alliance would comment on Sierra Nevada's search, citing policies against discussing economic development prospects.

The company began looking for an East Coast site several years ago and narrowed the list from several hundred east of the Mississippi. The Christiansburg site and the Tennessee site were "head and shoulders" above others looked at in terms of quality of life, Manley said.

The list of nuts-and-bolts issues the company is looking at -- good water, access to rail and shipping -- is actually shorter than its list of intangibles, like a nice community, low crime rate, good music scene and proximity to the outdoors.

Economic developers have called them a "bipolar" company, Manley said, because of the company's desire for an industrial site that also provides great quality of life.

Started in 1980 in Chico, Calif., the company remains 100 percent owned by its founder, Ken Grossman. It has grown by 10 percent annually in recent years, Manley said.

Sierra Nevada is now the second-largest craft brewery in the U.S., behind Boston Beer Co., makers of Sam Adams. It is the sixth-largest brewer overall, with distribution in all 50 states.

Rapid growth, combined with the cost and environ- mental impacts of shipping to all locations from one facility in Chico, Calif., drove the brewer to look for a place to expand.

"Shipping costs a fortune," Manley said. "Beer is heavy."

But the company's website expresses concerns about environmental issues associated with shipping.

The company primarily ships by truck, with some use of intermodal transport. Sierra Nevada has made environmental stewardship a company hallmark, most notably by supplying a large chunk of its own electricity via a solar array and fuel cells on the site of the Chico plant, the website says.

The new plant, which would include brewing and bottling facilities and a restaurant and brew pub, would employ about 100, from busboys to engineers, Manley said. Proximity to Virginia Tech is a plus, he said. The company often hires students from California State University at Chico for its plant.

The new brewery would produce up to 500,000 barrels of beer a year (a barrel is about 31 gallons), or roughly half what the Chico plant produces.

15 Jun. 2011

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