Two powerful community revitalizers join forces: Brewing and cooperative ownership


These are the words used to define a craft brewery. They could also be used to describe many rural towns across Montana and the Northwest.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

As small towns contend with big problems in the wake of ever-increasing urban sprawl, they’re getting creative in their search for solutions and sustainable futures.

Capitalizing on the craft brewing craze as away to revitalize small towns is an idea that seems to be gaining in popularity.

Community members in Ronan are looking to tap into the movement, but with a twist.The group is seeking to establish Montana’s first cooperative-owned craft brewery.

New Belgium’s Asheville brewery on its ecologically restored brownfield site.
Photo credit: Storm Cunningham

Long-time REVITALIZATION readers are already well-familiar with the revitalizing power of locally-owned microbreweries, as explained in articles such as this one and this one.

There seems to be a psychological link between brewing and renewal. If I (Storm) ever find the time to write it, I plan to do an article on my visit to New Belgium Brewing Company‘s east coast facility in Asheville, North Carolina.

There, they cleaned-up an old industrial brownfield site, ecologically restored the riverfront property, and helped economically revitalize the neighborhood.

The Wedge Brewery in Ashville’s revitalized River Arts District. Photo credit: Storm Cunningham

It’s right across the river from The Wedge brewery, which repurposed and revitalized an old industrial building in Asheville’s revitalized River Arts District.

New Belgium also has a watershed restoration initiative at their original Fort Collins, Colorado facility. Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland has a Chesapeake Bay restoration initiative, and after Hurricane Katrina, Abita Beer created their popular Restoration Ale to help fund recovery.

Our readers are also familiar with the revitalizing power of cooperative ownership, with this one, this one, and this one being some innovative examples.

Now, brewing and cooperative ownership are joining forces at the Ronan Cooperative Brewery in the town of Ronan in northwestern Montana (about 12 miles south of Flathead Lake, with a population under 2000).

While they are the first in Montana, they aren’t the first in the U.S. There’s Fair State Brewing did in Minnesota in early 2017, as reported here. And there’s three-year-old Bathtub Row Brewing in Los Alamos, New Mexico. And the trend is building with Democracy Brewing scheduled to open in downtown Boston, Massachusetts in April of 2018, as reported here.

The Black Star Co-op team.
Photo credit: Black Star Co-op

Probably the first cooperative brewery in the U.S. was Black Star Co-op in Austin, Texas. A year after Black Star got started in 2010, High Five Co-op Brewery got started in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The trend isn’t just happening in the United States, of course. Witness the London Brewing Co-op in London, Ontario, Canada. Witness also the Boundary Brewing Cooperative in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which opened in 2014. The list goes on and on.

While Ronan boasts a variety of businesses, including a telephone company, a movie theatre, a café, a thrift store, a bowling alley, hospital, and others, many Main Street storefronts remain empty or rundown. Roughly a third of Main Street buildings are vacant or in disrepair.

Through several public listening sessions held with economic developers in 2016, community members identified the revitalization of Main Street and increased business development as priorities for their town. With a cooperative development center on Main Street, eventually the idea of a cooperative brewery emerged. A public meeting was held, and a survey conducted, to gauge community interest in a co-op owned craft brewery. Both revealed a broad base of community support for the project.

A year and half later, 100 or so people gathered at a Ronan bar on a Saturday night as would-be owners of the Ronan Cooperative Brewery. The grand opening is expected in September of 2018.

Brianna Ewert is the cooperative development program manager for Lake County Community Development Corporation’s Cooperative Development Center. She provides technical assistance to the steering committee of Ronan Cooperative Brewery.

An ownership recruitment document for the brewery clearly states states the dual mission of brewing both beer and revitalization: “The idea behind the Ronan Cooperative Brewery is to bring together a strong craft beer movement to help in the revitalization of our community”.

Two classes of shares have been issue, common and preferred stock. Common stock is priced at $250 per share. One share = one vote, but additional shares don’t yield more votes. Preferred stock, offered only to common stock holders, is sold at $100 per share. Preferred stock increases the portion of any future profits enjoyed by the holder.

Craft brewing represents a sizable, grass-roots industry to the Montana economy. Furthermore, brewpubs often appear in historically industrial neighborhoods, reinvigorating and reimagining properties left vacant by passing industry,” says Kyle Morrill, senior economist at the University of Montana‘s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

All images courtesy of Ronan Cooperative Brewery unless otherwise credited.

See article by Summer Goddard about the Ronan Cooperative Brewery in the Valley Journal.

See Ronan Cooperative Brewery Facebook page.

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