New Glarus Brewery president recaps White House meeting

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Premiere Date: 
November 29, 2012

New Glarus Brewery president recaps White House meeting

Deb Carey talks about her meeting with President Obama and 14 other small business owners.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg: Now to economic news. Wisconsin will always be known for its big city breweries, but small craft breweries are also big business in Wisconsin. There are currently more than 30 of them, including the New Glarus Brewing Company in south central Wisconsin. Founded in 1993, New Glarus is among the top 25 largest craft brewing operations in the country. It was started by Deb Carey, the first woman in the country to found and operate a brewery. On Tuesday, an invitation to the White House placed her across the boardroom table from President Barack Obama, who asked Carey along with 14 other small business owners from around the US, to advise him on small business policy. And Deb Carey joins us now. Thanks a lot for doing so. Deb Carey: Yeah. Thanks for having me. Frederica Freyberg: What was that face-to-face experience with the president like for you? Deb Carey: Well, it was very intense. He's incredibly intelligent. All the things you've heard. He's funny, he's intelligent, he's extremely focused, just-- it's like sitting with a hawk. I mean, he's paying attention. He fielded all his own questions. Even though he had a senior staff. I think there was probably 10 or 12 other people there from every different department. It didn't matter what the topic was, exporting, regulations. He answered each of our questions and issues and how they were looking at solving the problem, and asked us for our feedback. It was really incredible. Frederica Freyberg: And what did you voice to the president as concerns small business, particularly yours and maybe even those in Wisconsin? Deb Carey: Well, there's so many of us from different parts of the United States that everybody had their own issues that they brought up. But for me, access to skilled labor is very important. A lot of programs have been cut. There used to be welding and shop classes and things. And those are, you know, almost non -existent. And that's a real concern for me because I need people with manual skills that are understanding of heat and pressure and, you know, how machinery moves, even to bring on in an entry level position. So it was an interesting response I got, because they're aware of that, and they've got some pilot programs where they're integrating vo-tech into high school classes and I find that to be very exciting. Frederica Freyberg: And how many employees do you have? Deb Carey: Oh, I keep losing track, but I think the last number I heard was 74. Frederica Freyberg: Sometimes people say, well, isn't it the responsibility of the business owner to train those people up? Deb Carey: Yes, absolutely. And we generally hire at an entry level and then promote from within. But I do need people that know how to do math, or understand why algebra is important in a brewery because that's how you figure the volume of a tank. And so, you know, I think there's a disconnect for a lot of high school people. I had a hard time in high school. You know, why am I learning this? And so it also helps them with their experience. So I'm not liking for them to train my labor, but you know myself. I only have a high school education. I need people who can read and write and do math to come on to my brewery. Frederica Freyberg: Were all the people there in the room with the president from across the country supporters of his? Deb Carey: No, I don't think so. I know that in other meetings-- I've been attending meetings as part of the White House Business Council for the last couple of years. So this isn't the first meeting I've been to. I didn't expect to meet the president here. There have been other times that they said he might come and then he couldn't, Netanyahu flew in so-- So I didn't know this was going to happen. And I know that in other meetings-- everybody was more polite because, of course, obviously, the president's there. But at other meetings things have been very argumentative. And there were people here that were very concerned about tax increases for investors, and things like that. So this was not-- there was some spirited discussion. Frederica Freyberg: In fact, I was going to ask you, obviously with the fiscal cliff talks, there's a lot of discussion about a tax increase on those earning over $250,000 a year, and how that will hurt small businesses like yours. Will it? Deb Carey: I find this to be very strange. For one, I'm in good company, because Warren Buffet doesn't think it will affect anybody either. There's a couple of facts. For one, there's not a lot of small businesses that fall into the range of making more than $250,000 a year. Everybody's still going to enjoy lower taxes, you know, on the lesser earnings. It's not a big tax increase that they're looking at. And the fact is that the fiscal hole is so big that we need to not only make cuts, but increase revenue, and everybody has to participate. Frederica Freyberg: What about provisions of the Affordable Care Act? Are they costing you more? Because there's a lot of discussion about that too. Deb Carey: Well, actually, I have always paid for insurance for our employees and so I've been a beneficiary there of tax breaks. So, you know. Frederica Freyberg: What was the reaction, has been the reaction, to your visit with the president? Deb Carey: Well, both ends of the spectrum, lots of outpouring of support. You know, myself, I felt it was a great honor. I deeply love this state and this country, and to meet the leader of the world is a great honor. But there also have been very negative-- I'm surprised I didn't know that I could be called so many names. I didn't-- you know, the boycotts, the "n" word. I mean, there's some deep-seated racism and ignorance still in our state, and it causes me a great deal of sorrow. Frederica Freyberg: On a lighter note– Deb Carey: Yes. Frederica Freyberg: You did walk away from the White House with some swag, and they were no doubt trying to impress you with their own brews. So tell us what they gave you. Deb Carey: Well, this is a funny story, because, you know, I got a thing from his position, the president walks into a meeting. He's got a lot of meetings. He made a point to come around and talk to each of us and ask us about our businesses, and that's where the photo comes from. As soon as I said I was from a brewery. He said, you’re from a brewery? I want a real professional opinion about my beer. Can I get you to taste the beer. So I’m, like, sure. I mean, I taste beer during meetings all the time. So he said, somebody get her some beer. I expected a little glass would show up. I kind of think that’s what he thought too. But the meeting progressed and it was very serious and toward the middle of it he said, hey, what happened to the beer? All kinds of little movements on the side. And still the beer didn't come. So when the meeting had ended and he shook my hand again, he apologized and said, I'm really sorry, somebody must have drank it on the way back up here. And all of a sudden somebody pops up with a little bag from the president and I got three bottles of White House Ale, which he is very clear that I am to taste it and give him my opinion back. You know, I am a very straightforward person when it comes to tasting, and I really hope I really like this beer. Frederica Freyberg: Well, we look forward to hearing your review of his beer. Deb Carey: I will publish it and he will hear it. Frederica Freyberg: All right. Deb Carey, thanks very much. Deb Carey: Thank you, Frederica.

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