Japanese brewing company Asahi Shuzo International has announced plans to open its first US sake brewery in Dutchess County, NY.

The company produces DASSAI premium sake and will invest $28 million in a site in Hyde Park, NY, creating 32 new jobs. The new facility will allow the company to produce more than 332,000 gallons of sake annually, while an additional strategic partnership with the Culinary Institute of America, also located in Hyde Park, NY, will allow for advanced R&D opportunities between business and academia.

FE talked to Sarah Lee, CEO of Think Dutchess, an economic development corporation, for more details about the investment, the area outside of NYC and the craft beverage industry.

FE: Why is Asahi Shuzo International opening its first US sake brewery? Will the product be for American consumers or is it meant to be more global?

Lee: Asahi Shuzo International opened its first US sake brewery to both expand its international footprint as well as increase awareness of sake in the US. Unlike craft beer, spirits and wine, sake remains a largely new and untouched market in the American craft beverage industry. The company perhaps saw a strategic opportunity to gain market share by expanding to the United States, especially to locate in a state like New York, where our craft beverage industry is thriving.

Sake produced at the company’s new Dutchess County facility will be intended for the American market, while the company’s existing locations will continue to serve its international market.

FE: Why did the company pick Dutchess County for its new location?

Lee: The Japanese company chose Dutchess County because of its strategic location right outside of New York City, which offers more affordable space and infrastructure while maintaining accessibility to markets throughout the Northeast and a top-notch workforce. Dutchess County also offers unparalleled resources for food and beverage producers specifically, thanks to our close ties with The Culinary Institute of America, located in Hyde Park.

Asahi Shuzo has taken advantage of this resource and launched a new partnership with the Culinary Institute to develop future R&D opportunities, including the development of new curriculum, certification programs, workshops and special events.

As for incentives and custom support, Empire State Development has offered Asahi Shuzo up to $588,235 in performance-based tax credits through the state’s Excelsior Jobs Program. Think Dutchess Alliance for Business also helped Asahi Shuzo secure its new property and the appropriate zoning amendments, along with support from the Town of Hyde Park. We strive to make the site selection process as simple and convenient as possible in Dutchess County.

FE: How can the area meet the plants’ future needs to fill it with skilled labor?

Lee: With award-winning colleges and universities located in Dutchess County, Asahi Shuzo will have access to highly skilled labor immediately, especially when it comes to F&B innovation. The Culinary Institute of America, less than a mile away from Asahi Shuzo’s future facility, will provide needed skills from both students and faculty.

In fact, the school’s talent is so strong that, on average, a Culinary Institute graduate will receive six job offers before graduation. In addition to a pipeline of talent coming from schools like Marist College and Vassar College, Dutchess County also works closely with SUNY Dutchess, our community college. SUNY Dutchess has several programs and training efforts that support filling technology and manufacturing jobs specifically, which will likely prove useful for Asahi Shuzo’s local hiring needs.

FE: What other food and beverages companies have recently located in the area?

Lee: The county’s F&B industry is anchored by large New York names like Irving Farm, a New York City-based coffee chain, and Crown Maple, the nation’s #2 maple syrup producer. We also have multi-generational family businesses that have driven wholesale F&B growth for decades, like EFCO Products, which supplies bakery fillings and goods to retailers across the Northeast. Dutchess is also home to several rapidly-growing F&B small businesses, like Sloop Brewing Co. and More Good, which are both now expanding to new spaces in East Fishkill; and more companies still are on the way.

Food and beverage companies also help make up one of Dutchess County’s fastest growing sectors, agri-business. In fact, Dutchess County has a $50 million agricultural sector, which has supported many ag-based beverage producers like Asahi Shuzo.

Much of this growth is at the entrepreneurial level. For example, Hudson Valley Brewery in Beacon, NY was founded by a Los Angeles entrepreneur who decided to move home to the Hudson Valley and start his own venture. From Millerton, NY, Peony Vodka is a new spirits startup launched by a former attorney from New York City. Poughkeepsie’s Mill House Brewing Company (MHBC) was also started by two career-changers, who decided to take a basement home brewing hobby and open a brewhouse in downtown Poughkeepsie. Not only has the restaurant become one of the most popular and critically acclaimed in town, but MHBC has expanded their production operations, including warehouse and canning space, and distribution.

This growth has even lead to successful auxiliary F&B enterprises, such as Brewmation, a supplier of turn-key brewing equipment and systems. Brewmation was originally founded in a Poughkeepsie garage in 2003 as a hobby, however thanks to the explosion of craft breweries across Dutchess County, it became a financially viable business. Today, Brewmation is expanding to a $1.1 million facility in East Fishkill and sells products in all 50 states as well as Canada.

FE: What other F&B companies would the area like to attract?

Lee: In Dutchess County, we welcome all sizes of F&B companies, from the local entrepreneur to the multinational corporation, as each will be able to find support from Think Dutchess and within the region.

One trend that we’ve recently been seeing is an exodus of companies who have been priced out of Brooklyn choosing to move their operations to Dutchess County. Many of the companies will credit Dutchess County’s affordability, robust infrastructure and proximity to pristine food and water resources as just a few of the reasons they chose to relocate or expand here.

This trend isn’t limited to just F&B companies either. For example, Brooklyn design companies like Rush Design, 4th State Metals and Niche Modern have moved either all or a portion of their operations to Dutchess County in recent years.

FE: Anything else you’d like to comment on?

Lee: In Dutchess County, we are always striving to support and grow business, and that doesn’t stop at the national level. Thanks to initiatives like our 2017 innovation mission to Tel Aviv, Israel, Think Dutchess has also upped our outreach to foreign companies, not just in F&B but in all industries, which are looking for FDI opportunities. It’s an exciting time.

Unlike other places in New York, or even the Hudson Valley, in Dutchess County, the opportunities for business innovation and growth are truly limitless.