Craft breweries are on an impressive upswing in Nebraska, contributing $465 million annually to the state’s economy and creating jobs at a faster clip than for the manufacturing sector as a whole. It’s important to understand the contributions this growing business sector is making to the economy, community vitality and Nebraska tourism.
In 2011, Nebraska had 11 craft breweries. By 2018, there were 50. Omaha and Lincoln are home to many, but breweries are found throughout the state. Among them: Scottsbluff, North Platte, McCook, Broken Bow, Ord, Kearney, Holdrege, Grand Island, Axtell, Albion, Wayne, La Vista and Pawnee City.
Nebraska’s 50 craft breweries exceed the numbers for Kansas (47), Wyoming (29) and South Dakota (28) while trailing Colorado (396), Missouri (112) and Iowa (94). But Nebraska’s brew sector scores impressively high in economic impact per capita: $351, for a national ranking of 17th. And only 14 states can best Nebraska’s figure of 3.6 breweries per 100,000 adults.
The state’s craft brewing sector employed 938 people last year, and during 2013-18 its employment total rose by 191%, making it a notably fast-growing sector, the Nebraska Department of Labor reports. Craft breweries and brewpubs have boosted tourism and are included on the state’s annual Nebraska Passport tourism promotion program. The Nebraska Craft Brewers Guild has secured a grant to study details of the brew sector's economic impact, with help from University of Nebraska-Lincoln economists. UNL agricultural researchers play a key role in supporting development of a hops sector in the state.
As with any business sector, success in craft brewing isn’t guaranteed. Much depends on business judgment and performance, plus market conditions. Still, the growth overall has been dramatic, and last year it was good to see Nebraska liquor distributors and craft brewers work out a compromise on the requirements for delivery of craft-brewery products. The peaceful agreement was welcome progress from 2017, when the spat sparked fierce debate, without resolution, in the Nebraska Legislature.
Brewing in Omaha goes back to 1859, when Fred Krug opened the state’s first brewery. In subsequent decades, additional local brands arose, including Storz, Metz and Jetter.
Today craft breweries account for more than 24% of overall U.S. beer sales, or $27.6 billion. Nebraska is getting a share of that economic benefit, thanks to the hard work and vision of local entrepreneurs and employees. This growth is opening up important opportunities for communities and the state as a whole.