Athen’s Creature Comforts named small-biz ‘rock star’ by State of Georgia

ATLANTA | The 2-year-old, Athens-based craft brewer Creature Comforts Brewing Company picked up another award Monday when it was named one of Georgia’s Small Business Rock Stars.

It was among five companies singled out from 69 applicants across Georgia nominated by state and local business-assistance agencies seeking to highlight firms that benefited from government loans, advice and grants.

Creature Comforts started in April 2014 with five employees and has grown to 13 full-time workers plus 25 part-timers. Various publications featured its launch, and one of its brews earned a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival. It is the only Georgia brewery listed among the Beer Advocate’s top 200 beers, and the company has even earned recognition for historic preservation.

But getting off the ground in the first place was a big challenge.

“In order to be a successful local business, you need local support from consumers, the state, from your local government, and we’re very fortunate to be in a place where we are able to get a lot of that in Athens-Clarke County,” said Chris Herron, the company’s CEO.

Banks turned the founders away, but various programs of the city and state made the company’s launch happen — and at lower interest rates than commercial lenders, he said.

“For a person born and raised in Georgia, it’s exciting to see all that you do for small business,” the Stone Mountain native told the members of the Georgia Economic Developers Association and staff of the Georgia Department of Economic Development during the awards luncheon.

The department and association began the contest in 2013 to celebrate their success stories. The judges heavily weigh economic impact and use of state, federal and local business-assistance resources.

“If the company is outstanding and they didn’t reach out at all to any resources, they got a zero in that category,” said Mary Ellen McClanahan, the director of the department’s small business project.

Representatives with state, local and federal agencies have made efforts in recent years to learn what programs all agencies provide so that a business contacting one agency can get help from all of them, according to McClanahan. Improved coordination has paid off for the rock star winners as well as other small businesses, she said.

The other winners for this year include D&J Plastics of Quitman, Reformation Brewery of Woodstock, IACT Health of Columbus and ViziTech USA of Putnam County.

Creature Comforts isn’t done growing. This week, it installs tanks to double its production. To expand further will require another facility, but Herron said the company has a certain loyalty to Athens for the help it got initially.

“We’re tied to Athens because we love it. We want to stay here,” he said.

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