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Bet on brewery paid big returns

Some people criticized the Henderson County commissioners seven years ago when they agreed to tax incentives of more than a quarter-million dollars a year to recruit a prospect with the code name of Big Forest.

The company was the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. And seven years down the road, its value to Henderson County, not only in jobs but as a beer tourism magnet, is clear for everyone to see. With the end of this budget year on June 30, Sierra Nevada receives the last of its $267,000 yearly tax incentives and goes on the county’s tax rolls with all of its assets. It’s the third largest taxpayer in the county, pouring $650,000 into the treasury.
“That incentive agreement is predicated on the industry fulfilling the commitment they made to our county in total investment hiring so many employee at above average salaries,” said county Commissioner Bill Lapsley, who did the site work for Sierra Nevada as a civil engineer before his election to the Board of Commissioners in 2014.

When it signed the incentive agreement, Sierra Nevada committed to invest $107 million. It has far surpassed that. Sierra Nevada owner Ken Grossman at first sent industry-site consultants looking for a 20-acre site. The company owns at least 185 acres on the French Broad. In 2012, brewery co-manager told the Mills River Town Council that the new brewery would be "a showcase for the world." Dubbed Malt Disney World by one beer critic, Sierra Nevada's Mills River campus, with its brewery tours, taproom and dog-friendly outdoor space, attracts tens of thousands visitors every year while shipping more than a half-million barrels of beer.

So, yeah, county commissioners said as they gazed at a spreadsheet that showed Sierra Nevada tax incentive dropping to zero, the county's investment paid off.

“Sierra Nevada is a perfect example of why this board has been doing this," Lapsley said. "In this coming year, our county is going to realize a net gain of $267,000 from Sierra Nevada and it all comes back to we had confidence that they were going to fulfill their promise to the citizens of Henderson County. I think it’s fair to say that that incentive package has turned out to be a great investment for Henderson County. We will reap the benefits of that for many many years to come. That’s why this board does incentive agreements.”