Grassroots tools help spur support for Iowa distileries

June 9, 2016 | 2016 CEO Survey: Workforce, Health Care are Top Priorities Emily Schettler, Iowa Association of Business and Industry,

When brothers Garrett and Ryan Burchett opened Mississippi River Distilling in 2010, they never imagined they would end up in the middle of a heated political battle, but that’s exactly where the Le Claire-based business and other distilleries have found themselves over the past three years.

Distilleries in Iowa face strict limitations on how much they can produce and what they’re allowed to sell customers who visit their facilities, especially compared with other similar companies like breweries and wineries.

They have faced an uphill challenge trying to persuade Iowa legislators to ease those restrictions and even the playing field for Iowa distilleries.

That’s one reason the Burchetts turned to the Iowa Association of Business and Industry for help.

“When we joined ABI, we were looking for an organization that had a voice in the state already,” Garrett Burchett said. “There are only 13 distilleries in Iowa. That means we had the ear of 13 representatives and 13 senators who directly represent us. ABI provided us a broader audience.”

The organization’s statewide presence and support of Iowa business owners provides small businesses with a loud voice at the state Capitol. ABI’s online action alert, Iowans were able to contact their legislators during the legislative session and encourage them to support Iowa distilleries.

The action alert system can help constituents identify their representatives and senators just by entering their address.

Mississippi River Distilling and other Iowa distilleries promoted the action alert tool through social media and generated hundreds of letters to Iowa lawmakers.

“It’s an amazing tool,” Burchett said. “No one else has really built that platform, and it’s given us a vehicle to get a lot of responses in a short amount of time.”

The Burchetts are still working on legislation to help level the playing field for Iowa distilleries, and they know lawmakers are listening to them. “It has gotten a lot of legislators to look in our direction in a hurry,” Burchett said. “It provided us an avenue to show them there were people in their districts who found this important.”