There are good reasons the White House selected Deb Carey to sit with first lady Michelle Obama during tonight’s State of the Union speech.
Carey, the New Glarus Brewing Co. co-founder, was first runner-up for the 2011 National Small Business Person of the Year and met with the president on small-business issues late last year. She’s also putting the wraps on a $7 million expansion at her Green County brewery, but the construction crews aren’t going away.
Carey said Monday that a $9 million expansion project will begin in April that will allow the brewery to double its production to 250,000 barrels. The 9,000-square-foot, yearlong project will primarily add more fermentation tanks and bring the brewery, which makes Spotted Cow and dozens of other craft brews, to more than 100,000 square feet. The expansion will increase the number of employees from 75 to more than 100 and further cement Carey and her brewmaster husband, Dan Carey, as one of the most innovative business couples in the state.
“I just really feel very overwhelmed. It’s hard to get my head around,” Carey said of the invitation she received Friday from the White House. “I just consider it a huge, huge honor. I’m going to try really hard not to fall in my heels.”
Carey, who is more accustomed to blue jeans, said she will wear the black dress she wore to her daughter’s high school graduation in 2001 and a jacket she bought this past weekend at an antique store in Mount Horeb. The shoes were purchased — on sale — at Cornblooms in the Hilldale Shopping Center.
The White House isn’t saying if Carey will be mentioned in the president’s speech but does say the guests in the first lady’s box “include Americans from middle-class families whose day-to-day lives would benefit from the policy proposals the president will unveil,” according to a statement.
Tuesday’s event will be the second in the presidential fold for Carey since Obama’s re-election. In late November, she and 15 other small-business owners on the White House Business Council met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, discussing ways to jump-start the economic recovery. There, she traded some New Glarus beer for three bottles of the White House homebrew but said Monday she has been asked not to bring gifts for the first lady.
The story of Deb and Dan Carey has been well documented and enhanced by the fact that all of the beer brewed by the company is only sold in Wisconsin.
The Careys started their business in 1993 with a 10,000-square-foot brewery and in 2007 opened a $21 million, 75,000-square-foot brewing plant on the village’s south side. The just-completed expansion at the new brewery added more warehouse space and doubled the size of the visitor center.
Last year, the brewery produced 126,000 barrels of beer, a 10.4 percent increase over 2011.
The expansion Deb Carey revealed Monday will also include a 7,500-square-foot fermentation cellar that will be used for aging fruit beers. The cavern will be built into the side of a hill at the original brewery on the village’s north side, which is used for the production of speciality beers.
Carey said she remains committed to selling her products only in Wisconsin because there is room for growth, even with the increasing number of new craft breweries that continue to come on line.
Overall, beer sales nationally in 2010 and 2011 dropped 1.3 percent and 1.2 percent respectively, according to the Brewers Association’s most current numbers. Craft brewers have experienced double-digit annual growth but still account for only about 6 percent of beer sold nationally.
“There’s a lot of space for all the craft brewers to grow,” Carey said. “We’re just trying to keep up.”