The ROX Interview: Craig McFarland

Craig McFarland:

He knows our community. Here’s why you should know him.

Interview by Rock Earle – Summer 2016

GC LIVING: Craig, what do you make of the wacky local election situation – one Mayoral candidate and nine candidates for three seats on City Council – this year?

CRAIG MCFARLAND: This election is definitely an odd state of affairs, certainly on the national stage. Our local election moving from a spring election cycle to the fall (to coincide with state and federal election) has helped bring more candidates to the city election. So the combination of a raucous national election and the timing change for our local elections, has created the interest in our local race. That’s a good thing. It’s good to see people interested in making a difference in our community.

The current Mayoral race with just one candidate . . . is also odd. Not that I am complaining, but I also don’t want to take anything for granted. I don’t expect to be anointed and want to win the community’s confidence and vote. I believe I am and would be the best candidate for the position of Mayor of Casa Grande. I am a collaborator and consensus-builder, and I will encourage entrepreneurs to build new businesses in our city, expand their existing businesses and remain in Casa Grande. I have the time, passion, training, experience and leadership skills to help make Casa Grande better! My ultimate goal is to make Casa Grande better than I found it!

GC LIVING: So Craig, what on earth brought you to Casa Grande?

CRAIG MCFARLAND: Well, my entire career has been in the beer business – primarily working for Anheuser-Busch in various capacities – and one of my customers was Golden Eagle Distributors in Tucson. When a succession crisis arose in their business, they invited me to become their vice president and Branch Manager of the Golden Eagle Casa Grande branch (the largest branch outside of Tucson). This branch was poised for growth and ultimately became the key SPIKE Beverage Distribution Center with their push into the Phoenix market.

The move to Casa Grande from St. Louis caused a mini crisis in my domestic situation, as my wife Nancy did not know anything about Casa Grande! When I told her we were moving to Casa Grande she Googled “shopping” and Kmart is the only thing that came up. She cried. Over time, though, she relented and we moved to Casa Grande. Nancy is a very resilient and positive person. Once she got settled, she was sold on Casa Grande. It is our home.

GC LIVING: The beer business sounds like every man’s dream! Tell us a little about that and some of your experiences?

CRAIG MCFARLAND: As you said, it was a dream job. I have had the opportunity to travel, learn about and drink beer, teach people about beer, attend every type of sporting event and sit in the best seats all under the umbrella of work. With the good comes some sacrifices – from Jan 1979 to Jan 2005, (I’ve held) 10 different positions with Anheuser-Busch, Inc., including the training department (Los Angeles), field sales management (Seattle, Washington and Boise, Idaho), division administrator (Denver, Colorado), revenue management & coupons and refunds (St. Louis, Missouri), sr. field sales (Phoenix), sales director AZ/NV (Phoenix) and western sales director retail sales (St. Louis, Missouri). Those new positions meant moving ten times and living in six different states.

In my career, I managed everything from training department curriculum, field sales wholesaler activities, corporate ABI revenue management – we had a $500 million budget – and managed all ABI personnel, sales, events, marketing and wholesalers serving Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and finally, managed ABI retail shelf sales personnel and programs for the Western U.S.

What I enjoyed most about the beer business was talking to people about beer and the differences in beer. Most common questions and arguments about beer would range from convincing people that “Beechwood Aging” of Budweiser makes a difference to why it’s easier to make an ale-style beer vs. a lager/Pilsner-style beer. My love of everything beer has led to my home brewing of my own beer. I have made everything from Pale Ale, Black IPA, regular IPA and even a Bourbon Aged Stout.

GC LIVING: Wow! OK, back up . . . “Beechwood Aging” . . . what is that?

CRAIG MCFARLAND: Beechwood aging is a process only used by Budweiser beer. “It creates a smoothness and drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price”. That’s actually a quote off the Budweiser label . . . if you want to check it out. Budweiser is naturally fermented with bottom fermenting yeast. They spread the Beechwood chips across the bottom of the fermenting tanks, seal the tank, fill it with wort (sugar water), add the yeast on top and it floats to the bottom of the tank and covers the Beechwood. It creates a greater surface area for the yeast to interact with the wort (fermentation creates alcohol and Co2) thus giving a more complete aging and fermentation process. Now I’m sure you’re sorry you asked.

GC LIVING: No, no good stuff. OK, what sort of an upbringing prepared you for this? Tell us about little Craig’s formative years…

CRAIG MCFARLAND: I am the oldest of five boys, born and raised in California. I lived in Washington D.C., Honolulu Hawaii and Fresno, Walnut Creek, Concord and Northridge (mostly Fresno) in California. I was raised by two loving parents. We did move around, as my Dad was in the Navy and eventually went to work for Anheuser-Busch. Living with four brothers included many life experiences like running paper routes, Boy Scouts, seven-person road trips in a station wagon with no air conditioning (back seat facing backwards), terrorizing neighborhoods and yes, just a few fights. Additionally, we brought home a long list of animals that boys find around a neighborhood –dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, pigeons, turtles, frogs, spiders, insects, snakes and lizards. You name it, we probably had it at one time. Our Mom would say, “You boys go out and play. Just be back before dark.” Fortunately, no one got seriously hurt and we all made it home. I won’t lie, there were some close calls.

GC LIVING: Did you have any special education that prepared you for your business career?

CRAIG MCFARLAND: School for me was a series of highs and some lows. Moving frequently made it hard to make consistent friends and longtime friends. I learned to be adaptive and find things to do with my brothers. Boy Scouts was also a really good program for me. It gave me direction, leadership, extracurricular activities and real-life survival skills. I graduated high school in 1972 from Hoover High School in Fresno, California, graduated college in 1976 from California State University Fresno (Aug. 1972 – June 1976, B.A.). I also had a great opportunity to attend the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 2005 and 2006. It is a concentrated two- week program through Wharton that gives business executives a crash MBA course and interaction with classmates from all over the world. I received two advance certificates from Wharton. It was a great experience!

GC LIVING: So, back to your start in business with Anheuser-Busch – tell our readers about your first job?

CRAIG MCFARLAND: As mentioned, after college I went to work for Anheuser-Busch, Inc. in Los Angeles at its Van Nuys brewery. At the time, this location was also a Busch Gardens, with a bird sanctuary along with other wild animals. It was a Los Angeles tourist attraction. They gave tours on a monorail, just like Disneyland. My first office was above the bottling lines and next to the monorail. It was literally 10 feet from my office. Crazy! My first job was as a training specialist, where I learned about beer. I learned how to make it, how to take care of it, how to sell it and how to market it. I literally visited every part of the brewery from top to bottom, including the hop room, grain elevators, milling room, mash tanks, lauder tanks, brew floor, brew kettles, fermenting cellars, finishing cellars, what we called the “government cellars” (this is where the beer was counted and the U.S. government took count for its excise taxes), the keg room, the bottling floor, and the warehouse. Every possible part of the brewery and brewing process I was privy to inspect, ask questions about and learn. It was an amazing experience for a 24-year-old from Fresno, California. My job was to work with our wholesaler family in all 14 western states and help spread Anheuser-Busch beer knowledge to our wholesaler personnel, to our retailers and to consumers. I did presentations in front of groups as small as five and as big as 350 people. We did beer education programs for all our wholesaler personnel from all the western states. I traveled and did programs in almost all 14 western states from Alaska to New Mexico, including 350 retailers in Salem, Oregon; 100 students in an advertising class at the University of Arizona; the University of Colorado; Arizona State University and retailers in Billings, Montana; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks, Alaska and all over California. I think the only state I didn’t get to was Hawaii. It was an amazing time and if you had more time, I could tell you a dozen stories.

GC LIVING: And presumably you climbed the company ladder well and nicely?

CRAIG MCFARLAND: I did. It took moving 10 times, six different states over the course of 26 years, settling in Casa Grande when Golden Eagle Distributors hired me away from ABI in Jan 2005 to run its Casa Grande branch operation. We lived and worked in Los Angeles, California; Seattle, Washington; Boise, Idaho; Denver, Colorado; St. Louis, Missouri; Phoenix; St. Louis, Missouri again and finally Casa Grande.

Anheuser-Busch, like many companies its size, back in the day, moved people around. That’s how you advanced – learning different parts of the business from training, field sales, revenue management, coupon fulfillment, corporate key account sales and senior sales management. You learned how to give sales presentations, wholesaler convention speeches, presentations to senior management and even presentations to August Busch III.

My wife and I have been in Casa Grande now for over 11 years. I retired from Golden Eagle in Jan. 2015 after 10 years (with a total of 36 years in beverage industry sales management and operations). I was brought to Golden Eagle to help with the Executive Management Committee. It was made up of a group of diverse individuals including the CFO, executive vice president of operations, company attorney and company owners. We helped guide company policy and direction. In addition to that, I also ran the Casa Grande branch operation. (Working for) Anheuser-Busch and Golden Eagle was a great time and a great experience that has netted Nancy and me many lifelong memories and friends.

GC LIVING: And through it all you lived the American Dream, personally too, with a great and supportive wife, two wonderful children and now many grandchildren – pretty much classic textbook success in Life 101.

CRAIG MCFARLAND: I am a very lucky man. I’ve been married to Nancy McFarland for 38 years. We have two grown children – Kelly, 35, is a graduate of the University of Arizona and Scott, 34, is a graduate of Arizona State University and Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. We have five grandchildren – Dillan, 7; Connor, 5; Keira, 5; Leila, 3 and Brady, 1. One family lives in Casa Grande and the other in north Phoenix. I moved my kids around and I know they would tell you that it wasn’t easy moving away from friends. You would think I would have learned from my own experience as a kid! I think they would also tell you that they have friends all over the country and that they are better adapted because of the experience. Nancy and I are included in that adaptability and experience. We bought and sold nine houses over that 26-year period, made some money on every one of them . . . until now. The good news is we are not moving. We are here to stay.

I attribute who and what I am today to my life experiences, my parents, my brothers, my partner Nancy, and my children. Also, everything I experienced as a kid and as an adult. As a young person, Boys Scouts shaped me the most. I learned early on that you leave your campsite better than you found it. Before you leave camp, you line up and police the campsite, picking up anything foreign that doesn’t belong. As an adult, moving, adapting and maturing in different environments and different situations has made me who I am today. My life goal is to leave this place, my community, better than I found it . . . that’s who I am!

GC LIVING: I know it sounds like we are jumping around, but tell our readers about your job at GED?

CRAIG MCFARLAND: I came to work with Golden Eagle in Jan. 2005 and committed to work 10 years. I had three different positions with Golden Eagle Distributors, Inc. and SPIKE Beverage (that was our non-Anheuser-Bush side of the business starting in spring 2006). My first position was vice president/branch manager at the Casa Grande branch. My second job was vice president corporate sales, statewide, and my office was in Tucson. Finally, I was promoted to vice president sales. I traveled throughout the state, as we had branches in Tucson, Casa Grande, Buckeye, Flagstaff, Show Low, Globe and Tempe.

Golden Eagle had approximately 350 employees with revenues near $250 million (on the low side). Most of my job was meetings and managing people. The key to a successful company is good people. We sold beer, wine, liquor, water, soft drinks, and a myriad of other beverages. As well, we managed events like the Arizona Renaissance Festival and Country Thunder and implemented strategic programs like converting our Tucson and Casa Grande truck fleet to compressed natural gas. We sent out delivery trucks from Page and Chinle to Ajo and Nogales and just about everywhere in between.

I have learned that you can’t do it by yourself. You need collaboration. You need to include people in the decisions. This experience and exposure has helped me understand what and how we can make things better – make things better for Casa Grande.

GC LIVING: Let’s get back to your comment about learning from the Boy Scouts to leave everything better than you found it…

CRAIG MCFARLAND: My business career has been the perfect on-ramp to all kinds of community services. In my time here in Casa Grande, I have served on 11 different boards and civic organizations, including the Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce board of directors; Boys & Girls Clubs of Casa Grande Valley board of directors, including a term as board president and time on the executive board; Central Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation board of directors (now called Access Arizona), Golden Eagle Distributors Strategy Committee member/executive board, Wings Like Eagles Foundation board, Pinal 40 board of directors and executive board, Starwood Vacation Owners Association, Apartment Owners Association, and Master Association board of directors, board president and current vice president in Hawaii; Market Casa Grande committee member (which includes a new website and Boy Scouts of America (Eagle Scout and Scoutmaster).

I believe in the Boy Scout motto “Be prepared.”I believe in the Scout Oath, “I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” I believe in the Scout Law, “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” And finally, I believe in the Scout Slogan, “Do a Good Turn Daily.” As I said earlier, I believe we need to leave our community better than we found it.

I also believe that people can be divided up into three groups – those who watch things happen, those who wish things would happen and those who make things happen. The first two categories drive me crazy – I put myself in the last category. I also believe that leadership is not a right. You can’t take leadership. True leadership is earned . . . true leadership is given.

GC LIVING: So, following your recent retirement from GED, what are your thoughts about how you are going to spend all of your free time (laughing)?

CRAIG MCFARLAND: I have always thought Casa Grande is a great place to live, work, raise a family and, yes, even retire. I have no plans to leave. I can’t imagine a better place to retire. As one of my friends is fond of saying, “I can get to Sky Harbor airport faster than my friends in Scottsdale!”

I have always believed in the potential of the area, but lately it has become clear to me and some other local stakeholders that we are not participating in the recovery to the extent that some of our neighbors are. We have certainly had some wins lately, in terms of new industries locating here, but we lag in some major metrics, like property values. Resale prices of our homes are barely back to replacement cost. Why is that? One of the reasons must be that people don’t want to live here very badly.

I like to look at it from a site selection point of view. In other words, if I were the head of a large company seeking to relocate or establish a new division in the Southwest U.S., why would I consider Casa Grande?

The first and most obvious checked boxes on my form are large-scale logistical advantages, like the intersection of two interstates, a shovel-ready rail-served industrial park, a major railroad main line, an airport not in the Phoenix flight zone and lots of blue sky and sunshine. And that list is very, very extensive, including an expanded and modernized sewage treatment plant which has allowed and will continue to help Casa Grande bring in new industry.

Items missing from my checked boxes are more quality of life items like a community center, young people entertainment, a well-trained workforce, and major sporting events – stuff for the people.

So my question back to you is how do we take advantage of who we are, where we are? How do we positively impact and influence the hundreds of thousands of people who drive right by Casa Grande on I-10 and I-8? We have some untapped marketing potential right there, I’m telling you!!

GC LIVING: What other “hard” infrastructure and other improvements do you see championing in coming years and beyond?

CRAIG MCFARLAND: My wish list includes expanding the sewer line expansion to the east side of I-10, working with Gila River Indian Community and the Arizona Department of Transportation to make widening I-10 between Casa Grande and Chandler happen sooner than later, creating a true transit system, working with existing systems like CART (Central Arizona Regional Transit) and developing a cooperative system with funding sources at the state and federal level, building the Kortsen / I-10 interchange, keeping an eye on and being involved in the evolving I-11 project. Working to encourage infill projects in Casa Grande (fill in open spaces and vacant developments) and cleaning up our blight. One of my pipe dreams would be to try to move the Pinal County fairgrounds to a location along I-10 . . . it could happen with cooperation from the city, State Trust Lands and Pinal County.

GC LIVING: We have had a very active economic development effort here for years. What kind of economic development program furthers these developmental dreams?

CRAIG MCFARLAND: Whatever the actual organization looks like, we must continue to market and promote our location and industrial area (I-8/I-10/rail/Airport location). I’m working with a team to begin marketing Casa Grande outside of the city and working on our image outside Casa Grande. We have four million potential buyers in the Phoenix metro area. Workforce development and training is critical, also. We need a workforce ready to fill jobs and a better understanding of the new millennial workforce. To achieve that, we will continue to seek help from Central Arizona College, Casa Grande Elementary School District & Casa Grande High School District.

Shopping malls aren’t exactly industrial job sources, but the stores lost this year (Target and Sports Authority) hurt our efforts. We must address this issue immediately with the developer and promote a more robust “Shop Local” campaign, because online shopping doesn’t pay the bills. As I mentioned earlier, we can also encourage developers to infill home building by creating development incentives including reducing or eliminating impact fees in select cases or in select zones.

And again, I would work to develop and implement “Marketing Casa Grande” MCG (see “Marketing Casa Grande”), a destination marketing project which includes a media plan, a visitor guide program, a website and mobile application – all to promote and market Casa Grande.

GC LIVING: Wow! That sounds like something that is missing from our current effort. And all of that is easy to say, but what is it that you will do in this pursuit that is new and/or different?

CRAIG MCFARLAND: What you say about our economic development activities is absolutely true, but I think that bringing new investment to our community should be a marketing effort that spans all aspects of a community – business and industry for sure, but also residents, retired or not, and also visitors, who may or may not be looking for a new place to live.

Quality of life is a key component to successful economic development. We need to improve and bring quality of life to our Casa Grande community. So I want to help build a “Marketing Casa Grande” organization that will market/promote our housing opportunities (Real Estate), quality of life, education, events, sports activities/venues, lodging/hotels/RV resorts, visitors and trail systems – truly marketing every facet of Casa Grande’s attractive lifestyle.

As for our community, the City of Casa Grande, 30 years from now, will we be able to say we left it better than we found it? I believe we can if we implement solutions that we come up with today. We need to tap into more of the creative energy and talent in this city to solve our problems and take advantage of our opportunities. To steal a quote from Bob Jackson, “We all live in this city and bear the responsibility of making it better.”

  • Specifically, my quality of life initiative wish list includes:
  • Building the proposed community recreation center at the Gilbert family property site
  • Continue to develop our Regional Trails Plan, which means we continue developing the trail system up on Casa Grande Mountain
  • Beginning to build our Regional Trails Plan (bike trails in town) using the community center as the hub and working with developers to get this project moving
  • A “Shop Local” campaign
  • Promote CG Events
  • Sports, world-class athletic fields
  • Golf courses (at $40 a round, not $150 – $300)
  • Increasing home buying (Let people know they can drive 20 minutes and save $200,000 on housing costs by buying in Casa Grande)
  • Hotels and lodging
  • Restaurants
  • Entertainment
  • Nearby side trips
  • Historical downtown and museum visits / tours
  • Nature and desert tours
  • RV resorts
  • Education
  • Arizona Tourism Office
  • Chamber office (business resource center)
  • Dorothy Powell Senior Center

And on top of it all, we have a very well run city government, City Council and mayor.

GC LIVING: Let’s talk about the “softer side” of making our area better – things that directly improve our quality of life or what you referred to as “stuff.”

CRAIG MCFARLAND: That is where our “stuff” – mainly quality of life issues – drops off rapidly: recreation center, performing arts center, public transportation, biking/hiking trails (hiking trails are getting better), historic downtown (work in progress and getting better) and private sector entertainment and recreation options. Just as most of our most promising young people leave the area for education and careers in, shall we say, more robust areas, we ourselves tend to recreate up in Phoenix more than we do here in our own area.

So a bunch of us have gotten together to analyze why these disparities with our neighboring communities exist and to come up with solutions. Our group is called Make it Better – Casa Grande and although we have been meeting casually for a year or two now, we are just now ready to enter the public arena with our thoughts (check out our website for more information). [Full Disclosure: Interviewer Rock Earle is a founding Member of Make it Better – Casa Grande]

We initially identified areas that we felt needed improvement and support. We established five areas to promote, propose, educate, and advocate and be accountable to Make it Better. We want to promote quality of life projects; propose and support opportunities to improve our community; educate and engage all citizens on the consequences of no-growth policies; advocate and provide public forums to champion worthy initiatives that might otherwise be at risk or denied by any city, county or state entity; be involved (accountable) and proactive in the local political climate to remain positive and pro-progress by engaging in debate and the decision-making process.

I have been involved in Casa Grande now for over 11 years. I’ve been on local boards, worked in and around Pinal County and I’ve worked with and on almost every major Casa Grande event that has happened over the past 11 years. Additionally, based on circumstances, like Bob Jackson being termed out, the upcoming City Council election and discussions with friends and family, it seemed to me that maybe a new face was needed. So the way I decided to help make Casa Grande better is to run for mayor!

One of the first things I did after deciding to run for mayor was to conduct my own survey. I don’t believe anyone has done a survey since the last bond election in 2006. As it turns out, the public concerns and wants are still very much the same as they were in 2006. The top concerns in order of importance are 1) jobs and economy, 2) schools and education, 3) crime and public safety, 4) roads and city infrastructure. Additionally, they still want a community recreation center built, 72.4 percent of the respondents said “yes” to the question, “Do you support building a Community Recreation Center?” Even the Phoenix Mart was supported by 63 percent of the respondents. So based on the survey I developed my list of priorities (many listed earlier in this article), we have a good grasp of what the needs and wants of our community are and plans for how to achieve them.

GC LIVING: Seems to us that the few small steps you have taken so far are indicative of your whole approach to solving problems.

CRAIG MCFARLAND: Yes, I think so. Through my business, charity and life experiences, I have learned to listen, analyze, discuss, encourage and build trust and teamwork. I believe I have the leadership skills to help run any organization. I can and will provide leadership, encourage people, promote progress and work to increase our quality of life in Casa Grande.

The main part of making Casa Grande better, though, entails more than just providing quality of life features for our citizens – somebody has to pay for it all! And that magic is all about growth, growth in business and growth in the employment base. I will collaborate with and encourage businesses to build new, expand and remain in Casa Grande. I will continue to support Casa Grande’s infrastructure and economic development and represent Casa Grande in the greater Arizona community as the face of our community. Ultimately, my goal is to leave Casa Grande better than I found it!