Under the Dome

Berger, state lawmakers demand answers on announced closure of Eden brewery

Led by Senate leader Phil Berger, a group of bipartisan lawmakers says in a new letter it is “deeply disturbed” by the decision of MillerCoors to close a brewery in Eden that employs 520 people – and wants Congress involved.

The letter was sent to U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and asks the Senate’s Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights Subcommittee to seek answers to a range of questions before approving any merger. Tillis, a Republican, is a member of that subcommittee.

Berger was joined in the letter to Tillis by Rep. Bert Jones, who represents the Eden area, as well as signatures of support from 46 others senators and 66 other representatives.

MillerCoors in September outlined plans to close its plant in Eden, which is north of Greensboro and is Berger’s hometown. The company said the decision was based on declining volumes and a decision to rely on a newer Virginia brewery that is closer to Northeast markets.

There also were the first indications that month of a purchase or merger by Anheuser-Busch InBev with SABMiller, which is one part of MillerCoors’ ownership.

MillerCoors is a joint venture of SABMiller and Molson Coors.

The SABMiller and Anheuser-Busch InBev agreement was announced later as one of the world’s largest corporate deals.

“This decision could have a devastating impact on our community and raises troubling questions that we hope you ... will investigate and demand answers to,” the letter says. “...While these giant beer conglomerates are looking out for their own interests, the hardworking people of Rockingham County are legitimately concerned.”

Berger, a Republican, is the influential leader of the state Senate and worked alongside Tillis when Tillis was the state’s House Speaker.

The letter later says: “This merger should not proceed until the people of Rockingham County, and all of North Carolina, receive the answers they deserve – and until reasonable steps are taken to protect these jobs.”

The letter raises questions about the timing of the Eden plant’s closure in relation to the announcement of the AB InBev and SABMiller talks. The letter says the decision to close the Eden plant was made “just 72 hours” before the merger discussions.

The letter asks Tillis to require answers from MillerCoors to the following questions:

▪ Why did you decide to close a state-of-the-art brewery just 72 hours before announcing merger discussions with Anheuser-Busch InBev?

▪ Wouldn’t it have made more sense to delay such a decision until after you knew the configuration of the newly-merged company?

▪ Did you know that a merger between Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller would likely force you to divest your interest in MillerCoors?

▪ Did you close the plant to avoid handing over a prized asset to a competitor?

▪ Or did Molson Coors, your partner in the joint venture, tell you in advance of the divestiture discussions that they did not want the Eden facility?

The letter points out that in the last few years alone, MillerCoors has ratified new contracts for brewery workers in Eden, signed a 25-year agreement with the town for payment in lieu of annexation “and made substantial investments in the physical plant, including a 70,000 square foot expansion.”

“Given these major and ongoing investments, why does it make sense to shut down the Eden brewery?” the state lawmakers ask.