Ohio entrepreneur tries to save brewery

Joe Napsha
| Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006

An East Liverpool, Ohio, businessman turned social entrepreneur is offering to help save a bankrupt Pittsburgh icon.

Craig E. Newbold, 58, who operated a successful computer consulting business in the Seattle area, said he has offered Pittsburgh Brewing Co. a line of credit up to $500,000 to help preserve jobs in the region.

"I was impressed with his (Pittsburgh Brewing President Joseph R. Piccirilli) interest in saving the brewery and keeping that icon in Pittsburgh," said Newbold, who was raised in the East Liverpool area and worked in Pittsburgh and McKeesport.

Newbold operates the nonprofit American Spirit Initiative, which bills itself as a project to revive people's hope, as well as revitalize the economy in Appalachia. This vision requires a "social entrepreneur," a person with the knowledge and desire to make a positive change to solve a problem, according to American Spirit's Web site.

Newbold is willing to risk his money on a company that has had well-publicized financial problems during the years.

"It seemed like the right thing to do," Newbold said. "There's not enough people out there trying to save businesses."

Pittsburgh Brewing, which filed for bankruptcy in December, says it needs operating capital to emerge from bankruptcy, according to court documents. If the judge approves the line of credit from Newbold at a Nov. 7 hearing, the brewery could get $250,000 immediately, then the remaining $250,000 a month later. Newbold would get priority status over all administrative, accounting and legal claims against the brewery.

Pittsburgh Brewing's unions say the brewery then might have enough money to pay workers under terms of the labor contract, said George Sharkey, a negotiator for the International Union of Electrical Workers-Communication Workers of America Local 22B and 144B, which represents 160 bottlers and brewers at the plant.

The brewery has a court hearing Thursday on its request to terminate the union's labor contract, after workers Oct. 1 rejected a package of concessions.

By offering to loan money to Pittsburgh Brewing, Newbold is practicing what he preaches. After selling his BEST Consulting Inc. in the Seattle area, which developed software for other firms, he returned home. He founded American Spirit Initiative to "work with the economically distressed areas" in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, Newbold said.

"We are looking at new, innovative ideas on ways to revitalize the area," said Cynthia Gadd, chief executive of Computer Management Group, which focuses on information technology staffing solutions. Computer Management Group is under the for-profit side of the American Spirit umbrella.

"Working with him (Newbold) has been fantastic," Gadd said. "We want to be the IT capital of the world."

Newbold is chairing the annual fund drive for the United Way of Southern Columbiana County, which includes East Liverpool, said Diane Johnson, executive director of the United Way in East Liverpool.

"He's been good. He's active in the community," Johnson said.

Newbold is not new to Pittsburgh Brewing. Newbold said he conducted a study for Pittsburgh Brewing about how to improve the brewery's Web site for electronic commerce.

Newbold declined to say whether he approached Pittsburgh Brewing's Piccirilli, or Piccirilli had sought him out for a line of credit. Pittsburgh Brewing spokeswoman Tracy Perles declined to comment.

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