Monday, June 15, 2015
Make No Little Plans, Kentucky, Even If That Goes Against Every Instinct You Have
I don't know Stephen Thomson but David Mann's article about him in Louisville Business First today has me steamed. In it Thomson, a former Brown-Forman executive and current investor in Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood, Kentucky (a posh Louisville suburb) wonders "whether there's a big enough market of tourists to support this many attractions."
He's talking about Louisville's current and planned bourbon-themed attractions such as the Evan Williams Experience.
And that's the sum of his argument. He wonders. He frets. He probably purses his lips and furrows his brow. He offers no statistics, no projections, he just wonders. "Most local people will go to these attractions once and rarely go back," he speculates. "It's like a one-time experience, then you go to the next one."
"A visitor to Louisville who is in town for a convention or other purpose likely will go to one or two distilleries — not all of them, and the one or two they visit probably will be the most promoted ones."
He goes on in that vein for a few more paragraphs. "Some will fail," the genius prognosticator predicts. Yes, businesses fail, so don't ever try to start one. Is this the kind of advice 'industry consultant' Thomson gives to his clients?
The truth, or at least my version of it, is exactly the opposite of what Thomson believes. As I said in 2009, when I was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, I believe the potential for American whiskey is unlimited.
"Don’t think in terms of twenty percent increases or forty percent increases. Think about growing two times, three times, five times, ten times bigger. There is no reason you can’t do it," I said.
Since then, the industry has been growing at about a 40 percent annual rate, yet Thomson wants to slam on the brakes.
What's his problem?
I think I know the answer.
I lived in Kentucky for nine years, from 1978 to 1987, and have spent a lot of time there since. I love Kentucky. It's a unique place with many wonderful qualities but one particularly bad one. I call it 'small timer syndrome.' It rears its ugly head in the efforts of the Kentucky Distillers Association to crush anyone who dares to promote bourbon without their permission. It is why the University of Kentucky refused to play the University of Louisville in major sports for 60 years. There are many other examples. Small timers are zero-summers. They believe you can have too much of a good thing. In fact, they believe that every new good thing diminishes the existing ones. Better not to aim too high. You might be disappointed.
At the end of Mann's article, Janet Kelly offers this retort: "Isn't that rather like Napa (Valley) saying we have too many wineries?" Kelly is the executive director of the University of Louisville's Urban Studies Institute, which actually uses data to reach its conclusions about bourbon's huge economic impact on Kentucky.
Instead of Thomson's pessimism, I prefer what Mark Twain wrote: "Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough."