ASHEVILLE — Oscar Wong, a former nuclear plant engineer who opened the city’s first microbrewery in 1995, is North Carolina’s Small Business Person of the Year.
Wong, president of Highland Brewing Co., learned of the recognition by the U.S. Small Business Administration in a letter from the agency’s administrator, Karen Mills.
“Your hard work, innovative ideas and dedication to your community have helped you succeed,” she said. “The SBA is pleased to recognize your achievements and your role in driving our nation’s economic growth.”
Wong, 71, opened his brewery “as a hobby” in the basement of the Barley’s Taproom building on Biltmore Avenue but expanded to a larger facility off Old Charlotte Highway in East Asheville in 2006.
Highland Brewing last year turned out 22,500 barrels of beer with 21 full-time and seven part-time employees. The beer is sold in seven Southeastern states.
The retired engineer said that while he’s honored and humbled by the award, getting it was more a matter of “being in the right place at the right time.
“It’s a combination of many things,” Wong said. “The city was ready for what we had to offer, the community has been very accepting and I have a staff that’s superb.
“It’s really to be shared with everybody that made me look good.”
Wong said the award also could reflect the growth of the brewing industry in the area. Buncombe County is now home to 10 craft breweries, and Asheville has been voted Beer City USA three years in a row in an online survey.
Wong has been invited to attend the National Small Business Week celebration and conference set for May 20-22 in Washington.