Cheers To Industry Clusters


Harvard’s Michael E. Porter made a splash in economic research a number of years ago with his analysis of similar businesses operating within close proximity of one another. Hollywood has its concentration of filmmakers, the Silicon Valley has its high-tech start-ups and innovators, the Pacific Northwest has its software companies, and Detroit is home to automotive companies. Porter coined the phrase ‘industry clusters’ to describe the interconnected relationships of competing business and industry.

Plastic molding companies play a big role in shaping the economic landscape of St. Croix County and west central Wisconsin. Although their names do not go on finished products, area plastics companies are aligned with medical devices, scientific equipment, consumer goods, and automotive components, with many being on a global stage.

St. Croix County has another budding cluster – alcohol – in the form of breweries, distilleries, and wineries. A skeptic may suggest that while others chase uncatchable business sectors, some revert to the lowest common denominator: alcohol.

St. Croix’s list of brewers, distillers, and fermenters continues to grow. In random order, there’s Rush River Brewery, Dave’s BrewFarm, Oliphant Brewery, Barley John’s Brewery, Bobtown Brewhouse, Pitchfork Brewery, Swinging Bridge Brewery (on the Pierce County side of River Falls), Aberforth Brewing (the former Hanson Brewing Company), soon-to-open Hop & Barrel Brewing, 45th Parallel Distillery, Madison Avenue Wine and Spirits, Demon Rum, 65 Vines Winery, Emerald Vineyard Estate, Cracked Barrel Winery, and Belle Vinez Winery. The list excludes homebrewers, distillers, fermenters, and moonshiners. My apologies to establishments whose names may have been omitted.

A stop in a local taproom gives patrons the chance to enjoy beer in the freshest way possible. That is, from a tapline connected directly to a keg in the cold room. The list of what’s on-tap can be puzzling. These are not your father’s standbys, and at $5+ for a pint, an elder or two may be left wondering about the other five beers to round out the mythical six-pack.

For some, the act of brewing, distilling, or fermenting is about creating something extraordinary. That means coffee and stout can be used together in the final product. Or peanut butter and honey. Who knew? Self-employment may be another reason to open a shop. The owner, head brewer, taproom manager, keg washer, server, and custodian could be the same person.

Breweries have become tourist destinations. Out-of-towners and even recreational bicyclists may choose to frequent a local brewery on a weekend or holiday. They may shop elsewhere or catch a bite to eat before departing.

A-ha. Alcohol as an industry cluster.

Cheers, Mr. Michael E. Porter. Your last name might as well be Stout.