PA: Alcohol policy panel talks privatization and economic impacts in Pa.
By Madison Russ
June 17, 2015
The Center for Alcohol Policy held two panel discussions in Harrisburg Wednesday to discuss the public health and safety aspects of alcohol regulation as well as the economic impact of Pennsylvania’s alcohol industry.
The Virginia-based policy center, whose goal is to educate policymakers, regulators, and the public about alcohol, brought key players in the alcohol industry in to offer their varying perspectives on the industry and issues pertaining to it in Pennsylvania.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights of their presentations.
Experts warn of privatizing of alcohol industry
Rebecca Ramirez, executive director of the National Liquor Law Enforcement Association, shared data on some of the public health and safety consequences of alcohol.
“Alcohol is the third leading cause of death and disability and is responsible for approximately 88,000 deaths per year in the United States,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez noted that research on alcohol privatization has also shown consequences, largely because of increased access and availability.
Tom King, chief of police of State College, said that some of the data presented by Ramirez was consistent with what he has witnessed in the field.
King explain that over the last 10 years the number of 18-24 year olds taken to the local hospital for alcohol poisoning has increased from 200 to 600 people annually.
In some in instances King noted, accidental deaths of people who have been under the influence have included one student being too intoxicated to escape a house fire and others falling from balconies.
“This is a serious problem and we don’t want to fix something that’s not broken from a state-run system standpoint,” King said, who felt that the state owned policy regulation has been consistent and strict.
Jerry Oliver, an advisor to the Center for Alcohol Policy, said that there is no “one size fits all” in terms of alcohol.
“Alcohol is in fact a unique product in a unique industry that needs to be aggressively and effective regulated so it’s not abused and does not end up in the hands of those under the legal drinking age,” Oliver said.
Earlier this year the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted 114-87 in favor of privatizing liquor sales across the state. Gov. Tom-Wolf has said that he would veto any such legislation, but has instead proposed liquor modernization.
Economic benefits of alcohol
Chris Trogner, co-founder of Tröegs Brewing Company in Hershey, employs 182 people at the brewery, which was listed last year as number 44 on a list of top 50 craft brewers in US.
“We sell about 60% of our beer right here in community,” said Trogner, whose brewery produces 80,000 barrels of beer annually.
Craft beer production in Pennsylvania ranks among the highest in the country with about 4 million barrels of beer produced annually.
“That equates to about 60,000 jobs or about $2.2 billion in wages and benefits,” Trogner said.
Studies have shown that breweries generate $365 million in state and local taxes from such jobs. Annually, brewery employment has been growing at about 10 percent and generating a 31 percent increase in payrolls.
John Longacre, president of LPMG Properties, which opens bars, restaurants and breweries in disinvested neighborhoods in Philadelphia, shared his experience with bringing economic stability to those areas through alcohol-related industries.
In 2002 the Newbold area of South Philadelphia was listed as one of the lowest-rated neighborhoods in the city and was a “mess,” according to Longacre.
“We get labeled as gentrifiers in many instances and to some degree that’s true, but we only do in-fill development,”said Longacre who explained that his company only focuses on buying abandon buildings and lots to help revitalize the community.
Longacre’s company brought gastropubs, such as South Philly Tap Room, to Newbold and continued to expand. After six years, it went from one of the lowest-rated neighborhoods to one of the highest appreciating zip codes in terms of property values.
“To be able to manipulate an increase in asset value -number one in the entire United States of America – is very significant and we did that purely based on the backs of beer sales,” Longacre said.
In Pennsylvania, all told, alcohol is a $16 billion dollar industry and generates 2.1 percent of the Commonwealth’s total jobs, said Lester Jones, chief economist for the National Beer Wholesalers Association.