Strong college wine program produces jobs

Anthony Gonzalez Staff Reporter

November 11, 2013

DOBSON — Sabrina Lueck, one of 12 expert presenters at the second annual Southeastern United Grape and Wine Symposium, said a strong college wine program can produce an upward cluster of jobs.

The two-day series of seminars by wine experts were held at Surry Community College on Wednesday and Thursday.

Lueck, hailing from the state of Washington for Walla Walla Community College, presented “The Design and Potential Economic Impact of a Strong College Wine Program With Tasting.”

In the presentation, Lueck talked about the idea of the wine cluster and its impact by having a strong college wine program.

“It’s not just about the wine industry, but it’s about the associated jobs that come with it,” said Lueck. “We employ about three-quarter of jobs that are primary and then one-quarter are restaurants, hospitality and specialty shops. So if you start building that important tourism economy, and if you want people to spend $35 on a really nice bottle of wine, you have to show them a nice meal, a nice hotel, and give them other things to see and do in downtown sections.”

According to Lueck, that’s where the jobs come in.

One such industry is in food. Walla Walla Community College had a down-and-out culinary program that has since been revived due to the wine industry.

“We have the Wine Country Culinary Institute going right now and they teach students about wine and country specific events. Wineries seem to do all of their events on the same weekend. We have spring release, holiday barrel release, fall release. The school trains students. They go and cater to the industry. They eventually work in the industry. This is all about how we develop the wine cluster,” she said.

“I showed a graph talking about a group called Economic Modeling Specialists talking about the effect of the wine cluster in Walla. They showed a line on where jobs were, where the jobs are today, what it’s expected to be, and where it would’ve been without a wine industry,” said Lueck. “The results are stunning. We had lost a pea packaging industry. We lost some agriculture. So with the supplementation of the wine, it’s given us an increase in employment. We would’ve been nothing without it.”

Lueck was familiar with the Yadkin Valley dominance in tobacco and textile in years past and the economic struggles experienced in the region.

“It’s not good to be all wine, too. We are not all wine,” she said. Lueck supports a diversified industry of jobs.

According to Lueck, 2007 saw the wine industry employ 11 percent of the greater Walla population. Now it’s 14.4 percent. The jobs are expected to be at 20 percent by 2020 even though the community is not seeing an increase in its population.

“If you need to see the potential of a wine industry, there it is,” she said.

During the presentation and when asked for data on direct or indirect jobs created by having a strong college wine program throughout the Yadkin Valley, organizers said that such information has not been tracked within the region.

The symposium was spearheaded by David Bower, enology instructor for Surry Community College.

“Basically, we started two years ago with just a thought for the industry and for the area, but there was nothing here. We had a very good turnout in our first year of about 20 people,” said Bower of the symposium. “This year we had something totally different. We had more collaboration from the North Carolina wine industry and beyond, and we had about 120 to 150 people attend. We had 180 for our Grand Wine Tasting event.

“I am just happy that we are going to move forward with the industry and the southeast and really make it something worthwhile,” he said.

Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 835-1513 or agonzalez@civitasmedia.com.