by Eric Ginsburg
An unusually public request for proposals process allows Greensboro to engage the public in its bid to attract California craft beer maker Stone Brewing.
About 15 people milled around by the bar last week at Mellow Mushroom in the dead hours between lunch and dinner, sipping Arrogant Bastard Ale and awaiting instructions. Three looming lights, a camera on a sliding tripod and an incarnation of Nathanael Greene —a businessman whose gingham collar and silver watch were visible despite a veil of reenactment regalia — gave the situation the appearance of a commercial set, and to some extent it was.
As part of Greensboro’s push to differentiate itself as a potential site in Stone Brewing’s request-for-proposals process for an East Coast distribution facility, a team assembled to film a commercial of sorts to showcase the city’s personality, riffing off the brewer’s edgy vibe.
The gleaming faces of the extras persisted before and after the camera rolled, mirrored in the selfies of online supporters — Stone Brewing beers in hand — of the effort. Even with a short turnaround time, a social-media campaign to create local enthusiasm and buy-in for Greensboro’s big push appears to be flourishing.
Normally participating in an RFP means sealed lips for the city or Greensboro Partnership for Economic Development. In keeping with the offbeat style of Stone Brewing, the No. 10 craft brewer in the nation, this process has been unique, vice president of business development services with Greensboro Partnership Economic Development Cyndi Dancy said.
“We did get an email from the city of Greensboro,” Dancy said. “The company contacted the city for some preliminary information. This is unusual for us in economic development because usually we can’t talk about a project until they decide.”
Stone Brewing — based in Escondido, Calif. — is known for its hop-heavy beers and attitude, including numerous year-round IPAs available at many Triad bars and bottle shops. The description plastered in the company’s Arrogant Bastard Ale is characteristic of Stone Brewing’s persona.
“This is an aggressive ale,” it reads. “You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth.”
With a transparent RFP process, the Greensboro Partnership reached out to Action Greensboro and involved Pace Communications to unleash a the campaign as part of the city’s efforts before the process closes this Friday. The result of the one-day video shoot on March 6 isn’t publicly available yet, but a steady stream of supportive photos and a few Stone Brewing drinking events fired up plenty of residents.
A Facebook page to garner support for the Gate City’s efforts rose steadily early this week and last week, easily surpassing the number of likes and activity on a similar page for Charlotte.
The company plans to build an East Coast facility that would ship to distributors on most states this side of the Mississippi, Stone Brewing spokesperson Sabrina Lopiccolo said.
“We’ve definitely received quite a few [submissions] and are excited about the possibility of opening up an East Coast brewery,” she said, adding that she couldn’t specify how many cities expressed interest and that the process is still open. “We think our fans on the East Coast will welcome the Stone Brewing experience we have here on the West Coast.”
That new facility would include production, distribution and on-site dining and drinking, according to the RFP. Stone Brewing plans to include an outdoor garden and dining area that doubles as an event space, an indoor dining and bar area, kitchen, retail and service area as part of the project. Lopiccolo said Stone Brewing doesn’t have a specific timeline for breaking ground or a deadline for picking a city in mind yet but intends to bring the project to fruition in the near future.
The RFP outlines specifics for the myriad of elements in the project, asking respondents to provide information about things like access to water, potential sites and zoning, demographics of the area, highway access, expansion opportunities, any nearby quarries and why the city and company fit well together.
Action Greensboro Director Cecelia Thompson said it is a “huge endeavor,” but that Greensboro can accommodate the project.
“We’ve got a lot of sites,” she said. “North Carolina is situated very well for that and also Greensboro specifically.”
“I think that we have the logistics,” she said. “We have a network [of highways] here that really allows them to produce what they need to produce and get it to the markets on the East Coast. Greensboro does have a lot of assets and I don’t think there is one particular thing that outweighs the others.”
Dancy and Thompson acknowledged that Greensboro’s beer scene may not be as robust as other North Carolina or East Coast cities, but agreed the city and state are moving in the right direction.
“North Carolina in general is a good place to grow a beer business,” Dancy said. “We can grow along with North Carolina’s craft-brewing industry.”
Dancy’s words aren’t just fluff — the Triad’s beer scene has shown a dramatic uptick in the last year. A chunk of the growth has been in Winston-Salem, with breweries like Hoots Roller Bar and Small Batch Beer Co. and businesses including Stella Brew, but Greensboro will soon add the Pig Pounder brewery and Gibb’s Hundred Brewing. Still, a map of craft breweries in the state shows larger clusters in Asheville and the nearby Triangle.
Thompson added that there is also a strong home-brewing culture in the area.
One thing that may help distinguish the city is the plethora of colleges and universities, which Thompson said adds to a “young, vibrant population” and an educated workforce.
There are plenty of examples, including Thompson herself: Action Greensboro’s new director is a 31-year-old Elon University grad.
If Greensboro is lucky, Stone Brewing will give the city’s demographic tilt — which is also embodied by 25-year old NC A&T University graduate and freshman city councilman Jamal Fox — high enough marks to outweigh any less-than-stellar answers elsewhere in the proposal.