Trouble brewing? Oregon breweries offer signing bonuses for jobs

Special Reports

Oregon breweries say they're struggling to hire. They hope signing bonuses will appeal to applicants

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Between 2018 and 2020, Oregon lost nearly 3,000 beer-related jobs, according to a recently released biennial economic impact study. 

The Beer Serves America study, which was published in May by the Beer Institute and National Beer Wholesalers Association, found that the COVID-19 pandemic led to the permanent closure of at least 600 local breweries and brewpubs throughout the country. 

While overall volumes of beer sales were up by 0.9% in 2020 compared to 2018, brewing jobs across the country decreased by about 3.3%. The study attributes the job loss to the mandatory shutdowns. 

Michael LaLonde, president and CEO of Bend-based Deschutes Brewery, certainly felt the impact of the shutdowns on his business. 

“We went from about 500 co-owners down to about 150,” LaLonde said, “So, that was a significant impact to our business because we had to close our pubs, which is a big employer for our company.” 

At Deschutes Brewery, employees are called co-owners because every worker joins the employee stock ownership plan. 

LaLonde said even after the pubs reopened, it’s been a bumpy road. He said any time an employee tested positive for COVID-19, they would close the pub for two weeks. So far, they’ve done that four times. 

Now, risk levels in Oregon are dropping, but LaLonde said they can only seat 50% of their indoor capacity, and that hurts the business. 

According to the Beer Serves America study, Oregon saw some of its largest beer-related job decreases in brewing and manufacturing. Brewing jobs fell about 15% from 2018. Manufacturing jobs dropped about 13%. 

Since it’s initial layoffs, Deschutes Brewery has since increased its staff to about 350 people. LaLonde said right now, there are 32 job openings within the company, but he’s really struggling to hire people. 

“I think maybe some people left the restaurant industry because they saw the fluctuation in opening and closing and restrictions and they decided to pursue a different career path,” LaLonde said. 

His other theory is that extended unemployment benefits could be keeping some people from re-entering the workforce. He’s hoping he’ll see more people apply when those benefits end. But for the next few months, he expects hiring will remain a challenge.

To incentivize new applicants, Deschutes is offering signing bonuses. Job postings for line cooks and dishwashers at Deschutes Brewery are offering a $1,000 signing bonus – $125 in the first four paychecks and $500 to anyone who continues to work there until Sept. 15. 

Breakside Brewery is also offering hiring bonuses to line cooks. They’ll pay $500 of the bonus after six months and another $500 after 12 months.  

Despite the difficulties, LaLonde said he expects Deschutes Brewery will recover and is optimistic for the future. It’s other, smaller businesses he worries about. 

“I’m really concerned about other people in the industry who put their hard-earned money to start a business and now they can’t operate successfully anymore. So, that’s a concern that we have,” he said.

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