McLaughlin, as photographed by Joe Ellis, at Lucky Town Brewery in Midtown Jackson.

Fondrenite Matthew McLaughlin is the founding shareholder of McLaughlin, PC, a boutique corporate, commercial and transactional legal and advisory firm located in Jackson. He has more than 13 years of experience representing entrepreneurs and existing industry in highly regulated environments and has worked with more than 40 breweries and distilleries in the Southeastern United States, advising them on a myriad of issues.

We talked with McLaughlin for our fall issue about his journey and what he sees as the future of the industry.

You’ve represented the Mississippi craft beer industry from day one. Mississippi’s first craft brewer, Lazy Magnolia in Kiln, is your client. You’ve obviously seen major changes in the last ten years. How does it make you feel to know you had a hand in this?

It’s pretty damn cool, to be honest with you.  I am extremely blessed to work with and advocate on behalf of so many creative and entrepreneurial Mississippians.  To have played a role in building a new industry in Mississippi, the craft beer industry, while steering it through numerous legal and legislative challenges has been unbelievably rewarding.

I am very proud of the work that the breweries have been able to accomplish over the last decade or so.  Breweries in Mississippi have been instrumental in all of the changes made to our brewing laws, changes that were thoughtful, deliberate, and developed by a coalition of Mississippi organizations working for a common goal: ensuring that Mississippi businesses can compete in the global beverage industry.

What is your personal takeaway from all of this work in advocacy and advising?

My single greatest takeaway from the experience of building a coalition and lobbying for a change in the craft beer industry is that positive impactful change can happen in Mississippi.  I think the craft beer industry is symbolic of the greater shift we are experiencing as consumers gravitate towards locally produced products at a much faster rate and as people decide to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors over taking more traditional career paths.

Our economic development and regulatory policy should be geared towards creating organic business opportunities for all Mississippians.  We should focus more time and resources on enabling Mississippians to take risks and pursue entrepreneurial goals.  This can happen in Mississippi and the craft beer industry is a tangible example of it happening here.

Is there a story that stands out, something that’s come out of the fight that has made it worth it?

When the breweries set out in 2015 to start working on a legislative agenda for the 2016 session, the strategy was to build a coalition around the cause.  The industry was still in its infancy and the trade association for the industry was also very young.  I knew the only way to move the on-premises sales initiative further was by building a coalition.

Building a coalition around a legislative or policy initiative is challenging.  We needed organizations that would not only understand and sympathize with the cause; we needed organizations to actually adopt the cause.

I spent countless hours talking to hundreds of people within different organizations around the state on why the craft beer industry was important to Mississippi and what legislative changes were necessary for this industry to unleash its full potential. For the most part, our message was well received and resonated with people; but often, the organizations I would speak to had their own legislative or policy needs, wished us the best, and said they would help out as long as it did not derail their efforts.

At first, this was difficult for me to understand and I could not get past my own bias. We had a well-reasoned ask and one that would enhance the business environment for an emerging industry in Mississippi.  This should be something everyone wants to endorse.  Well, that is not exactly how it works and I learned this the hard way.

Our initiative to get on-premises sales past in Mississippi took a positive trajectory in late 2015.  After briefing the Mississippi Manufacturers Association on the overall state of the craft brewing industry in Mississippi and where the breweries in Mississippi wanted to go with a legislative initiative, the Mississippi Manufacturers Association adopted our initiative and placed on its legislative agenda for 2016.

At that moment, I felt like on some level, the craft brewing industry in Mississippi had arrived as a legitimate concern.  By adopting the breweries legislative initiative, the Mississippi Manufacturers Association further legitimized the effort becoming the first real partner in the coalition.

The other two organizations that played critical roles in the coalition to get on-premises sales legalized in Mississippi were the Mississippi Restaurant and Hospitality Association and the Mississippi Beer Distributors Association.  Without all of these organizations and their leadership, our initiative would not have been successful.

What’s on the horizon for the beer industry and beyond, specifically the cottage alcoholic beverage industry beyond beer? Are there other big wins or challenges ahead?

We need more people drinking Mississippi made products.  Mississippi craft beer makes up less than 0.5% of the total market in Mississippi.  Put another way, 99.5% all the beer consumed in Mississippi is produced outside of the state. Committing time and resources to changing this is what is on the horizon for the Mississippi craft beer industry.

In other parts of the United States, local craft, that being beer that is produced in a particular state, may be 10-20%, or higher, of the total market.  Again, here it is less than 0.5%.  The only way this is going to change is through consumer education.

We need to make sure that beer drinking Mississippians understand what kind of incredible beer is being made in this State.  We have breweries making products that are winning awards all over the country and are being recognized as some of the best beers in a particular category.

We also need consumers to understand the impact that buying, and in this case, drinking local can have on Mississippi owned business and in Mississippi communities.  These are the issues that present the most challenge for the industry now.

Has Fondren had an impact on your success or ability to make changes in the alcohol industry?

Sure, the culinary cluster that has developed in Fondren, as well as events like [Fondren After 5] and the Mississippi Craft Beer festival, have all aided in the process.  The restaurants carrying Mississippi made products and events highlighting Mississippi made products furthers consumer awareness which subsequently brings the spotlight on the issues that impact the alcohol industry in Mississippi.

McLaughlin is the winner of the FX Matt Defense of the Craft Brewing Industry Award, an annual award given by the Brewers Association, the national trade association for the craft brewing industry, awarded to an individual who advocates and defends the craft brewing industry.

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