San Diego County’s craft beer makers generated $851 million in sales while employing more than 4,500 during 2015, according to the latest annual industry impact update by National University System Institute for Policy Research.

The region’s craft beer sales in 2015 posted a 17 percent increase over 2014, with the employment count rising 20 percent.

In related news, four local companies retained their status among the nation’s 50 largest craft brewers based on 2015 sales volume, in an annual ranking by the Colorado-based Brewers Association.

The 2016 list includes Escondido’s Stone Brewing Co. at No. 10, Miramar’s Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits at No. 11, Mira Mesa’s Green Flash Brewing Co. at No. 41 and Pacific Beach’s Karl Strauss Brewing Co. at No. 46.

Ballast Point, which was acquired last year by New York-based Constellation Brands in a $1 billion deal, moved up 20 notches from No. 31 on the 2015 list.

National University researchers said local operators of craft breweries and brewpubs – numbering 114 at the end of 2015, but recently passing 120 with more on the way – face newly emerging industry challenges and policy choices.

Those include flattening of local wages, and debates over water usage, land use and housing affordability that could affect the local brewing industry’s long-term competitiveness.

“Industry sales and jobs continue to rise each year in San Diego, but the local marketplace for craft beer is changing,” said Vince Vasquez, a senior policy analyst who authored the National University report. “Regional marketing efforts and consumer education will be critical in identifying ‘craft’ brewers in a new era of industry acquisitions and expansions in San Diego.”