Or rather, can craft beer save our towns?

In the first of a new series of documentary films called “Enterprise Iain Investigates”, I will be exploring why the people who are starting the new wave of craft breweries are so passionate about their place, and why so many economic development professionals are so dismissive of this kind of business.

The documentaries have been prepared prior to launching our #placematters campaign, and are an exploration of a new breed of entrepreneur, people who like to make things.  Of course, there is nothing new about entrepreneurs who make things. But in the last few years I have noticed how many economists and their ilk get excited, not by people making things, but by people not making things.  The digital economy obsesses these people. Behind their excitement are the monumental sums of money they think these new tech entrepreneurs can make. Economists even have a title for them.  Unicorn businesses.  This article in Fortune magazine says it all. Ghastly.  But in the documentary I get a chance to question who really benefits from these high tech businesses. How much of the money they make stays in the local economy?  I also question why the mainstream media does not discuss local businesses and their impact on the economy.  The natural starting point was the new wave of craft brewers, because they encapsulate both the ‘local versus global’ and the ‘local meets global’ issues.

My own curiosity as to why local is a poor second to global these days was prompted by a visit to the eccentric town of Lewes in Sussex (the place that wanted to burn Alex Salmond, or his effigy). From an enterprise perspective Lewes is very intriguing. It is a town with a long radical tradition (birthplace of Thomas Paine) and a town with its own currency. It is also a town with a brewery right in its centre.  It is a town that makes much of buying and sourcing locally because it recognises the economic benefits this brings.

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You can’t miss the brewery in Lewes.  It’s called Harveys.Beside the river, behind the main shopping street and next to the supermarket is a large black and white building that has been there for over two hundred years – employing local people, serving local shops and supplying local pubs and eating places.  This is not the kind of business held up and celebrated by many economists and journalists.  This is not the kind of business mentioned in these breathy stocks and shares reports on the BBC.  This is not the kind of business the media seems to take seriously.  Serious is Amazon and Facebook.  And yet this kind of local business is vital to the economic health of the town. In fact this is a business that offers the following statistics:

Harveys Brewery, Lewes

  • annual turnover: £19 million
  • approximate production volumes: 45,000 Brewers Barrels Per Annum
  • number of employees: 73
  • number of freehold licensed properties: 48

This is the kind of business that is vital to every town.  And place matters, or I should say #placematters to this business.

If you are interested in our #placematters project then please sign up for more information from Can Do Places and me, Enterprise Iain here.