Saturday, June 3, 2023

Craft beer economic report: breweries contribute $20 million to regional economy

Since 2014, the Cape Fear craft beer scene has been brewing faster than ever. Now, an economic report produced by UNCW students shows the extent of the impact of the region's 13 breweries on the local economy

NEW HANOVER COUNTY—The numbers are finally in. In just four years, the Cape Fear region has seen an explosion in the craft beer industry.

Now, craft brewers have an economic report to point to.

RELATED: An in-depth look at Wilmington’s craft brewing scene

Produced by Dr. Adam Jones’ microeconomics class, UNCW students found that New Hanover County’s 13 craft breweries and supporting bottle shops contribute $20 to $23 million in regional sales.

“That’s sales at the breweries, and then folks who work at the breweries, go spend money somewhere else,” Jones said. “It’s a sort of multiplier effect.”

The industry was found to add $10.3 million in labor income and $1.5 million in tax revenue to the region.

Despite Wilmington having three times the number of breweries per capita compared to Charlotte, and twice as many as Raleigh, prior understanding of craft beer’s economic impact has been speculative.

Though a costly and comprehensive economic impact report had been requested, Jones put his students — a “free” resource —to the task.

The students’ report used anonymized data, self-reported by 12 of the county’s 13 breweries.

For UNCW senior Nathaniel Goulder, the opportunity to collaborate with his fellow ECON 428 classmates was a semester-long endeavor.

Between classes that “don’t always have real-world applications” getting to contribute to a report that the community has been waiting on served as a natural transition leading up to his graduation.

“Getting to actually apply it to the real world was phenomenal,” he said.

UNCW macroeconomics students used the IMPLAN model to assess the craft beer industry's impact on New Hanover County.(Port City Daily/Courtesy UNCW)
UNCW macroeconomics students used the IMPLAN model to assess the craft beer industry’s impact on New Hanover County.(Port City Daily/Courtesy UNCW)

In total, craft breweries, bottle shops and supporting roles associated with craft beer have added over 400 jobs to the region. The study found that the average yearly earnings for employees of in the craft beer industry in New Hanover County are $42,000, compared to Asheville’s $55,000 average.

If every brewery and bottle shop combined to be considered to be a single employer, the Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance would be considered one of the top 25 employers in the county.

“I would say this is the equivalent of a major manufacturing plant in town,” Jones said. “Think about it that way.”

According to the report, some factors were not included in the $20 to $23 million regional sales impact number. Jones said economic impact estimates are often inflated, and his team intentionally aimed to weed out external factors. “A lot of these numbers turn out to be somewhat inflated, we tried really hard not to do that here though,” Jones said.

Students pointed to the wedding and tourism industry as being integrally supported by craft beer’s “essence of place” in the Cape Fear region.

We think their bigger impact is all this other stuff they support,” Jones said.

Johanna Ferebee can be reached at or @j__ferebee on Twitter

Related Articles