Union Craft expansion adds to growing economic impact of craft makers in Baltimore

Union Craft Brewing announced plans Tuesday to double its production capacity and hire more than 100 workers in the next decade by expanding with a new brewery in a redeveloped warehouse in nearby Medfield, anchoring a new 10 ½-acre manufacturing and retail complex called Union Collective. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

The narrow, black-and-white Union Craft Brewing sign that points to its low brick building on the west side of Interstate 83 in Woodberry is painted on an old chimney, so it won't go with the brewery as it relocates about a quarter mile north to another warehouse east of the highway.

That short move is a big step for the growing brewery and for Baltimore's emerging craft manufacturing economy.


Union Craft plans to redevelop a 10.5-acre Medfield site formerly occupied by plastics maker Hedwin Corp. as manufacturing and retail space for itself and other growing Baltimore firms.

Makers of craft beer and spirits, along with other small manufacturers, are a growing economic force in Baltimore. They're adding jobs, energizing neighborhoods, boosting tourism and, city leaders and economists say, are an important aspect of reviving Baltimore's long suffering manufacturing base.


"For years we have tried to stimulate manufacturing in the region and often these breweries are not viewed as manufacturing because they're not producing steel or automobiles," said economist Anirban Basu, CEO of Sage Policy Group. "But they are manufacturers nonetheless. These are people who are creating wealth for their communities because they are creating value.

"These people are creators."

Union Craft, founded in 2011 by Jon Zerivitz, Kevin Blodger and Adam Benesch, began looking for a new spot about two years ago, as it expanded distribution throughout Maryland and into Virginia and Washington, D.C., and outgrew its old 15,000-square-foot space.

Union Craft is not the only growing booze maker in the city revitalizing older properties. Numerous breweries have popped in recent years, joined by a meadery and lately by craft distillers, offering gin, rum and now whiskeys.

In the past few years, Peabody Heights Brewery opened in a former bottling plant in Waverly; Oliver Brewing moved from the basement of the Pratt Street Alehouse to an industrial park on the east side and began canning and distributing its beers; and Sagamore Spirit, the whiskey company co-owned by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, opened its distillery in April in Port Covington on the site of a long defunct rail freight yard.

Union Craft's move triples the size of its brewery and taproom, allowing it to double production initially and expand much more in the future, adding more than 100 jobs over the next decade, the company said.

The brewery has partnered with Seawall Development Co., which developed R. House and other projects in Remington, to overhaul the Hedwin warehouse. Renovations start July 1. Union Craft aims to open the manufacturing and retail space for tenants by late fall, with the brewery and taproom following in spring 2018, Zerivitz said.

Zerivitz said he and his business partners wanted the site to attract manufacturers and others who share their model of giving customers a close-up look — and taste — of what's behind the curtain.

"The traditional model is to find some cheap warehouse space and do your thing in relative anonymity," Zerivitz said. "We thought why not apply the same kind of craft beer model to all these other businesses, give them exposure and a community."

The approach makes smart use of space that, in the past, has been relegated to industrial manufacturing, said William H. Cole IV, president of the Baltimore Development Corp.

Hedwin went bankrupt in 2014 and was acquired by Fujimori Kogyo Co. Ltd., which later relocated its operations to Delaware.

"It's utilizing that empty space but in doing so, it's creating job opportunities for the community and beyond," said City Councilman Leon Pinkett, who represents the district that includes Medfield and Hampden. "I think it's a win-win in that aspect. Not to say residential development is necessarily bad, but we also need commercial development that brings jobs as well."


Cole noted Union Craft could have moved just about anywhere.

"The fact they're really committed to staying in the city is an important part of the story here because they're providing not only jobs but it's a great part of their brand," he said. "Throwing their flag down off 83 is great for them, but it's great for Baltimore, too."

Randy Dalmas, president of the Medfield Community Association, said residents have been supportive of the project, though they have some concerns about increased foot and car traffic.

"A lot of people in the area are familiar with both companies, and they've been really good neighbors," Dalmas said. "We think it could be a really good fit."

Bart Watson, chief economist for the national trade group Brewers Association, said a brewery like Union Craft should be an effective anchor at any development, given the rising popularity of brewery taprooms.

"Craft breweries have had a lot of growth and they're something that drives foot traffic," Watson said. "They often serve as community-gathering spaces."

Watson said the plans for Union Collective reflect what many consumers are looking for these days. Customers who seek farm-to-table restaurants and handcrafted, small-batch goods will likely appreciate a community-minded project like this, he said.

They're also increasingly popular among tourists, a trend Baltimore's tourism bureau wants to capitalize on.

This month, Visit Baltimore is launching a $126,000 print advertising campaign featuring Baltimore "tastemakers" — chefs and brewers, including Union Craft's Kevin Blodger — talking about the city's food and drink scene.

Tourists polled by Visit Baltimore and its research partners named culinary experiences and brewery tours among their top special interests, said Sam Rogers, the chief marketing officer for Visit Baltimore, the city's tourism bureau.

"Having the taproom as a place to try beers and tour the facility, the whole sort of makerspace with it is transformational for so many neighborhoods," Rogers said. "It's really going to be a big part of us telling the 'What's new in Baltimore' story."

Beyond beer, Union Collective taps into a growing network of small manufacturers and makers in Baltimore.

There's Port Covington's City Garage, a bus depot turned innovation hub by Plank's private investment arm, Sagamore Ventures, and the Foundery, a makerspace for small-scale manufacturing based there.

The Station North Tool Library welcomes woodworkers and furniture makers who don't have their own workshops or tools. Nearby, Open Works has wood and metal shops, and commercial-grade equipment for independent contractors and small companies.

Since opening in September, Open Works has grown to about 180 members. The makerspace averages about 20 new members a month — steady growth that General Manager Will Holman said demonstrates the demand for accessible tools and entrepreneurial energy building in Baltimore.

Michael Galiazzo, president of the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland, said the wave of new entrepreneurs setting up shop in Baltimore is good for the state's manufacturing industry, but cautioned that city and state leaders must also prioritize sustaining established manufacturers.

"I think in Baltimore there could be a renaissance out there, but it must include existing companies," Galiazzo said.


Holman agreed. A new city initiative called Made in Baltimore brings together makers and manufacturers of all sizes. Holman said Domino Sugar was an early partner, along with the city's younger makerspaces.


"We're all about new, but also understand that even if we grow to a couple hundred or even 1,000 makers we're not going to be able to offer the type of mass employment that Bethlehem Steel or GM once offered that will kind of repopulate the city," Holman said. "There's got to be a combination."

Union Craft Brewing is ready to pick up the torch.

"Without a doubt we are becoming a greater economic force in the city. We're creating jobs, we're certainly creating lots of tax revenue and not only that but I just think, especially on the beer side, this is going to become a real destination."

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