Focus, Food Service & Agriculture, and Higher Education

GRCC taps into training grant

Beer City will need ready-to-work employees in growing craft beer industry.

March 20, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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GRCC Brewing Program
Dan Gendler, culinary program director at GRCC, said brewery owners and operators also will need culinary arts and food service operation managers that can oversee both sides of the operation since many brewers are not culinary trained and most chefs are not trained in brewing. “Since we will actually be inserting students into our retail brewing operation as part of our Heritage (Restaurant) fine dining operation, our students will have the opportunity to get the best of both worlds,” he said. Courtesy GRCC

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Another Michigan college is entering the beer education game.

Grand Rapids Community College will begin offering a craft brewing management certification in 2016, thanks in part to a $2.9 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

GRCC’s craft brewing program will join a certificate at Central Michigan University and a joint degree by Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo Valley Community College as other options in the state. Both the CMU and WMU/KVCC programs were announced in the last few months.

At least six craft brewing programs exist out of state, including established programs at University of California-Davis and Oregon State University.

Proximity to the thriving Grand Rapids beer scene will help fuel the program, said Fiona Hert, dean of GRCC’s School of Workforce Development.

“We live in Beer City,” Hert said. “We talked to brewers like Founders (Brewing Co.) to find out what they need, and now students can learn to brew with those companies.”

Hert said the proximity to nearly 30 breweries in the Grand Rapids area will allow students better access to internships and jobs.

Rockford Brewing Co. co-owner Seth Rivard said the new program will enhance the entire craft beer culture in West Michigan.

“This program will further develop that culture,” Rivard said. “Many continue to look at the Greater Grand Rapids area as a hub for all things craft brewing, and showing that we are serious about not only the art of brewing but the critical science and techniques behind it, as well, goes a long way in showing our dedication.”

The discussion between GRCC and area brewers began more than a year ago, but the funding from the MEDC brought it to fruition. The money was part of a $50 million grant program to support 18 community colleges across the state with job training.

GRCC’s funds were brought to $3.9 million, thanks to a matching fund within the college and will also be used to expand upgrades in programs for automotive technology, HVAC, tooling and manufacturing, and welding.

"The state's generous support will help us prepare more students to enter the workforce and make a positive difference for employers seeking talent," GRCC President Steve Ender said when the grant was announced in February. "The funding will help us make sure our students have hands-on experience on the most advanced technological equipment and tools available. We will also be able to add new programs to meet changing industry demands."

A portion of the grant money will be used to purchase brewing equipment and develop the programming.

Housed within the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education, the program will be a 22-hour certificate with additional lab hours. Hert expects up to 20 students to take part in the three-semester program the first go-around.

The curriculum is still in planning, but Hert said students will learn the science behind brewing and how the business works. Science sections will include subjects such as microbiology, biochemistry, nutrition and fermentation. The business side will include packaging, merchandising, marketing and management courses.

An internship at a brewery will also be required to complete the certification.

The employer outlook in Michigan’s beer scene is strong, with large breweries such as Kalamazoo’s Bell’s Brewery and Grand Rapids’ Founders Brewing continuing to expand, and several startups also expanding rapidly.

“The opportunities to work in the brewing industry continue to grow. The opportunities for education have not kept up,” Cordell DeMattei told the Business Journal in February. DeMattei is the director of fermentation science at CMU.

Bell’s Brewery currently is the seventh-largest craft brewery in the nation. Founders’ current $40 million expansion project will likely jump it into the top 20, as well, possibly producing up to 900,000 barrels annually. With the sale of a 30 percent interest stake to Spanish company Mahou San Miguel, Founders technically is no longer a craft brewery, as more than 25 percent of the company is owned by a company not qualified as craft by The Brewers Association.

Battle Creek’s Arcadia Ales recently added a second facility in Kalamazoo, and Holland’s New Holland Brewing Co. announced a Grand Rapids location in fall 2014. Detroit’s Atwater Brewery is growing rapidly, with a second location and the intention to have brewing facilities in North Carolina and Texas. Warren’s Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. in the Detroit suburb of Warren will open a large expansion at some point this year.

Bellaire’s Short’s Brewing Co. also is growing, recently becoming the third-largest brewery in the state; however, that is likely to change as other breweries overtake it.

Newer breweries such as Mitten Brewing Co., Muskegon’s Pigeon Hill Brewing Co. and Marquette’s Blackrocks Brewery all have recently announced or completed significant expansions to their production capabilities.

The rapid growth in the craft-beer industry doesn’t stop in Michigan.

The Brewers Association released its annual report last week, showing craft beer accounted for $20 billion in sales last year, up 22 percent from 2013. The 22 million barrels produced — which includes 3.5 million in redefined breweries such as Pennsylvania’s Yuengling — is nearly 700 million gallons.

Craft beer held 5 percent of the beer market in 2010. Now, it makes up 11 percent.

“This steady growth shows that craft brewing is part of a profound shift in American beer culture — a shift that will help craft brewers achieve their ambitious goal of 20 percent market share by 2020,” said Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson in the report. “Small and independent brewers are deepening their connection to local beer lovers while continuing to create excitement and attract even more appreciators.”

More than 600 breweries opened in 2014, bringing the total to 3,418 operating breweries in the United States, up from 1,749 in 2010. Forty-six breweries closed in 2014.

As the craft beer industry continues to gain steam, it’s also employing thousands of people. Small brewing companies employed 115,469 people last year, a 4.3 percent increase from 110,748 in 2013.

“These small businesses are one of the bright spots in both our economy and culture,” Watson said. “Craft brewers are serving their local communities, brewing up jobs and boosting tourism.”

Area breweries should have an easier time finding quality employees as they grow because GRCC’s new brewing program could create dozens of ready-to-work employees every year, Hert said.

“As Rockford production capabilities grow, we will need more talent in this area,” Rivard said. “We generally look for individuals who love to learn, are well disciplined and have a very strong background in the brewing basics.

“This program sounds like it would have a lot of potential in helping us succeed in finding those right individuals.”

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