Wednesday, September 05, 2012

A brewer speaks at the Democratic Convention.

Bill Butcher is a 40-something small-business owner in Alexandria, Virginia. A past wine company executive, his business now is beer, and he's all in.

Butcher opened Port City Brewing Company, in Alexandria, in 2010, the first production brewery to operate in that town —located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.— since 1916.

Bill Butcher of Port City Brewing

Tonight, Mr. Butcher goes —not to Washington, but— to Charlotte, North Carolina. He has been invited to speak before the Democratic National Convention. I asked him about this signature honor, what he would be speaking on, and about his brewery.

YFGF: How did you receive your invitation to speak?
I got a call from the campaign a few weeks ago. The DNC [Democratic National Committee] was looking for a couple of small businesses that had gotten SBA [Small Business Administration] loans over the past few years. That's how we got on their radar. It turns out that many of the local DNC folks are also fans of our beer.

YFGF: When will you be speaking, and how much time have you been allotted? (Will you be talking to an empty chair?)
I will be speaking for about 2 minutes, between 9:00 and 9:30 on Wednesday evening. No empty chairs: that's been done

Democratic National Convention 2012

YFGF: Without giving away the speech itself, what will be your major points?
The administration had enacted a program to waive the fees on SBA loans and cut red tape to get banks to start lending money to small businesses again. We were able to take advantage of this program, which encouraged our bank to work with an independent start up, and saved us money on fees, which we were able to invest instead in more brewing equipment. 

YFGF: What have been the challenges of small businesses in this economic environment?
Capital is still very hard to raise. It's not easy to get a business loan, and banks are not in the business of taking risk; they make sure that the loans are fully collateralized. The SBA continues to have a positive impact in helping entrepreneurs get loans, by being an additional guarantor. This additional security encourages banks to work with more small businesses. 

YFGF: Is mixing politics and beer business a good thing?
While I do vote in every election, I do not get involved politically. I'm simply too busy running our business. Our beer is served at Republican fundraisers as well as Democratic fundraisers. I believe that beer is apolitical, and it is something that brings people together. Tonight, I'm there simply to tell our story. We were able to take advantage of an SBA program that helped us finally get the attention of a bank, and encouraged them to make us a loan. I think that no matter your politics, we can all be pro-business, pro local business, and pro small business. That's what we are. 

YFGF: Let's talk about Port City Brewing. What is the percentage of sales growth since you opened the brewery in February 2011?
We brewed 3000 barrels (~42,000 cases) of craft beer in our first year. We will roughly double that this year with about 85,000 cases. We will continue to grow our business in our existing markets, and open new markets as long as we can ensure continuity of supply. We are seriously committed to no out of stocks for our existing customers. Due to our careful planning, we have not let any of our customers down by not having product available for them. We are quite proud of that. 

YFGF: Is local citizenry attuned to supporting local businesses like yours?
Definitely! I see a real sense of local pride developing around our brewery, as well as around the whole emerging local DC beer scene. 

YFGF: What do you think your greatest achievement with Port City has been?
We are only at the beginning of this adventure. We still have a lot to do! We wake up every day ready to hustle, and we know that if we're not brewing great beer, then people will have no reason to buy it.

Port City beer on the shelf

Our beers are now sold in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and North Carolina, and are available in about 600 bars, restaurants, and retailers from Asheville to Annapolis. I am very proud of our distribution that we have been able to achieve; it's a good start! We are building a solid foundation for success, and that is our greatest achievement. 

Tonight, Bill Butcher's television audience will include many Virginians and, nationwide, many small-brewery owners and brewers. They'll be listening with interest; they'll be watching with pride.

I know what you're thinking, and sorry. I'm not here to give out free beer.

You know, I don't have time to pay much attention to politics because I'm too busy running my business. I think a lot of small-business owners feel the same way. We don't care about the daily back and forth of campaigns. We just want leaders in Washington who believe in us and make it just a little easier for us to succeed. Our president is that kind of leader.

There were moments when my wife Karen and I wondered if we would ever get our business off the ground. I remember what it was like to go to bank after bank after bank hearing "No." We may not have ever gotten to "Yes" if it wasn't for President Obama and the SBA loan program he started.

For these last four years, I've had a president who's on my side. He cut small-business taxes 18 times. He kept middle class taxes low, which meant more customers for my product. He knows that growing the middle class helps businesses create jobs.

And I know that if he gets a second term, entrepreneurs like me will have the best possible chance to succeed.

I hear President Obama has been brewing some beer in the White House recently, and I know you're not supposed to endorse a competitor, but in this case I'm going to make an exception.

Our president has fought for small-business owners, and now it's time to fight for him. Thank you everybody.

  • Mr. Butcher speaks tonight between 9 and 9:30. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, himself a past brewery owner, speaks during the 8 o'clock hour. Full schedule of speakers: here.
  • C-SPAN has the video of Butcher's appearance: here.
  • Transcript above via Daily Kos.
  • If you're at the convention, and you'd like to enjoy a Port City beer, here's a list of who's got it in Charlotte.

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