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Brewery's big expansion

City's team approach speeds Lagunitas growth

Published: Friday, December 16, 2011 at 10:42 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 16, 2011 at 10:42 a.m.

No business wants to keep their customers waiting. But when growing consumer demand requires building a new facility, it can often be a slow and frustrating process for the business owner.

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A 40-ton crane with a 90-foot boom lifts a large tank into the Lagunitas Brewing Co. building. Here, the tank is about to pass over the threshhold of the building during its installation last week.

John O'Hara

But thanks to Petaluma's newly streamlined development approval process aimed at making it easier for businesses to expand, the rapidly growing legion of Lagunitas beer fans have reason to rejoice. The wait for their brews just got a lot shorter.

According to Lagunitas founder and owner Tony Magee, the brewery's $14 million expansion, that will allow it to increase annual barrel production from 160,000 to 600,000, would have typically taken three years. “However, because the city provided a low friction environment for the project, we were able to have it set up, engineered, reviewed and completed in about a year.”

Magee says that the brewery had gotten to a point where incremental changes in the facility and equipment weren't sufficient to meet their production needs. “We are growing very quickly and we had grown through our equipment. It was going to require construction.”

Rather than working with individual city departments to gain project approval, as had been the case in the past, Magee was able to meet with a team representing the primary department staff responsible for reviewing and permitting projects, including police, fire, public works, water resources and planning.

“Instead of each department sending out emails with isolated points of view, with everyone in the room it became a community. It set the arrow of my project straight forward because everyone there wanted to see it get done,” says Magee.

Economic Development Manager Ingrid Alverde saw an opportunity to put the steamlined review and permitting process into action when Magee said he needed to get the expansion done quickly or Lagunitas' growth would be hindered.

She says Lagunitas is a great example of a complex and time sensitive project that demonstrates how the team approach has produced a better and quicker outcome.

“Lagunitas was the case study for the city to take a team approach with the goal of making it easier for businesses to expand. But this isn't a short-term effort. We have changed how we do business.”

For Magee, the difference was dramatic. “The city has changed everything. It's like a new world here now.”

Magee says that because the initial meeting had outlined an orderly process, subsequent meetings with the team were for “tune-up and alignment.” “If a burr arose in the project — and they did — it was buffed out very efficiently. Ingrid was there to remind everyone they we're on the same team,” Magee said.

The process is more an art than a science, Alverde says. “There's no such thing as a cookie-cutter development. Each project is unique and every change can trigger a new issue. However, because the applicant sits down with all the disciplines, including the architect and engineer, the implication of changes can be explored. They can say, ‘This is what I'm thinking about doing,' before investing time and money.”

Alverde says that there is a balance that must be achieved between the city's standards and approvals. “While we don't want to ever compromise on regulations and safety factors, we can create a process that is transparent, efficient and more supportive to business applicants.”

Alverde sees the Lagunitas expansion as paving the way for other food processing and manufacturing businesses which are part of Petaluma's Economic Development Strategy. According to Alverde, these industries have the most “spin-off” or ability to create additional jobs and businesses.

Magee said that Lagunitas has hired 50 people this year. He credits the City's team approach with the company's anticipated grow in 2012.

“We grew over 60 percent this year and I see the same kind of growth next year,' said Magee. “And that's only going to be possible because the city moved us through the process.”

(Contact Colleen Rustad at argus@arguscourier.com)

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