RANIER – With Rainy Lake as the backdrop, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar clutched a pint of a locally brewed ale, and sat back to hear the stories of Borderland.
The senator met with local elected officials as well as young professionals Wednesday at Loony’s Brew in Ranier sipping Amaizing Cream Ale under sunny skies and 80-degree temperatures.
“Thanks for the nice weather,” Klobuchar said, shaking hands with the about 20 people in attendance.
The visit centered around hearing from young entrepreneurs as well elected officials about the current advantages and disadvantages of life in northern Minnesota.
Matt Kavan, co-owner of Loony’s, said he and his brother, Paul, recently moved to the area from San Francisco, Calif., and appreciated not having to locate parking meters on a daily basis.
“It took me about three or four weeks to get used to,” Matt said, laughing. “There’s a lot of advantages of being here.”
Klobuchar said she hopes to see more jobs in rural American – especially rural Minnesota – because the lower cost of living allows people to be entrepreneurial without being dragged down by high housing costs.
The Kavans are a good example.
The brothers in April officially launched their own brewery in addition to the pub they purchased about a year and a half ago.
“It’s been going well,” Matt said. “We have great water with great mineral content... It’s a great place to have a brewery, especially for lagers, which we hope to get into later on this summer.”
Still, there are growth problems for the business, and its location can create extra delays.
“We start out so small and when our first order of growlers sold out, there’s a four-week time to make the growlers and the company we got them was from San Diego and it was supposed to be one, maybe two weeks, but it ended up being three to four weeks,” he said. “So we’re out of growlers for a month... It’s tough because we were all excited and then we hit a road block... We’re taking baby steps.”
Kavan said he hopes to use more local grains and hops, but the suppliers he has to choose from is limited in its stock.
“It’s a very cool thing,” Klobuchar said of Loony’s and the brewery effort. “We have over 100 breweries in Minnesota... It’s jobs right here.”
She said larger conglomerates are being purchased by companies in other countries, taking local jobs away.
“We did a big hearing on that,” Klobuchar added. “We got some conditions put on some of those mergers so they couldn’t push people out of the market and now they’ve been buying a bunch of the small breweries, so we’re worried about that. I’m working on that end and trying to get the tax reduced for under 2 million barrels a year. Even under 60,000 would reduce it in half.”
Other local business owners, including RaeAnn Conat of Swanky Sweet Pea and Kelly Franz of Eleven 71, provided updates on their businesses and Klobuchar commended the women for their ventures and success. Conant said in the last year, production has increased more than 200 percent and she is now doing business with more larger, national companies like Ulta.
The senator also talked about issues other areas in the region are facing including tourism, border crossings, employment and broadband connections. She said to attract the millennial generation to an area, establishments like Loony’s, trendy coffee shops, and other businesses of a similar nature are a big draw.
“We need to invest in ways to keep people in small towns like International Falls,” she said. “If people want to stay here, we want to find ways to make that happen.”
After the meeting, Klobuchar took in the views of Rainy Lake and Ranier, complementing the Kavans on the beer, which she reported tasted very good.