June 16, 2014

Utah vs. Maine wasn’t the point

I hear a lot about Maine businesses struggling with regulation, work force issues and an overall challenging business climate. Visiting Utahn Alan Hall certainly brought up some salient points at the recent Maine Real Estate & Development Association conference, where the consensus seemed to be there is no consensus on how to lift Maine out of its cellar-dweller status of business-friendly states (as ranked by Forbes).

But doing business in one of the country's most pro-business states isn't without its challenges.

For starters, we're brewing beer in a state where, in theory, nearly two-thirds of the population eschew alcohol. The influence of the Mormon culture necessarily reduces the percentage of local folks who will try our products. You could call Utah the least friendly beer-brewing state in the nation.

Secondly, state liquor regulations can make it expensive and arduous to do beer business here:

• At 41 cents per gallon, Utah's excise tax for beer ranks 14th highest in the country.

• Only beer with 4% alcohol by volume or less may be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores. Any beer with higher alcohol content must be sold in a bar, restaurant or one of the state's liquor stores.

• With additional taxes, Utahns pay about $12 for a six pack of our popular Hop Nosh IPA. You can buy it in Maine for around $9, even with the added distribution costs.

Despite those hurdles, there is a strong pro-business consensus here.

I offer this anecdote: It was 1993. I'd poured my heart and soul and blood and any dollars I had into starting Uinta. The brewery was ready to go. I needed to open to start climbing out of the red.

My timing couldn't have been worse: The Brady Bill [the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act] had just been signed into law. It seemed all of the region's Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms agents were busy enforcing it. I couldn't get them to walk through the brewery and license it. I kept getting the brush off. For days. For months.

Finally, I got in touch with the office of U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). He reached out in a pro-business way and understood that I might go out of business before even going into business. He recognized a hard-working, tax-paying entrepreneur.

Three days later, I had two ATF agents at the brewery and I became operational.

Here's another thought: Doing what you love and loving where you live need to be incorporated into any entrepreneur's mindset.

Being passionate about your work, whether you're an employer or an employee, can go a long way in tilting the scales toward success.

I love Maine. But I love being able to ski or bike in these mountains and work the same day. That means a lot to me.

Twenty-one years ago, I wasn't looking at the cost of doing business so much as where I personally wanted to live. I felt like if I was happy then I would possibly be more successful at my business.

We've just hired a 'people person' to help cultivate that idea. As an employer, you might find there are never enough good applicants. There always seems to be that 10% of employees who are wondering what the business can do for them. They're not real contributors and don't want to get involved in our beer world (in Uinta's case).

But if you're passionate about the work, it helps. If you're passionate, you're going to contribute more and you're going to be rewarded. Once you're rewarded, you'll become part of the team.

A committed and enthusiastic team is one reason we've been able to triple Uinta's volume from 20,000 to 60,000 barrels in the last few years.

It might be that the most significant business climate is not the one predicated by the state. It's the one cultivated inside each company's walls.

A native of Falmouth, Will Hamill headed to Utah in the 1980s to ski. He founded Uinta Brewing Co. in 1993. Today, the privately held Uinta is ranked No. 46 among craft brewers, according to the Brewers Association.


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