The Spirit of Bourbonism: How Industry Data is Being Used to Drive Economic Development

An entrepreneurial spirit and the right information can help communities make sound investments.
February 26, 2019 AT 11:00 AM
Louisville ranked high in the most recent Governing and Living Cities Equipt to Innovate survey in the area of utilizing data effectively in decision-making. David Kidd
By Lisa Wong  |  Senior Fellow, Governing Institute
Lisa Wong is a senior fellow with the Governing Institute and former mayor of Fitchburg, Mass.

Revenue from whiskey and bourbon sales is now over $3 billion annually. Cities like Louisville, Ky., have capitalized on the growing demand from consumers, fostering a favorable environment for both large and small producers and developing tourism around the industry. Exhibit one: Bourbonism, one city’s tourism strategy to brand itself as a welcoming, vibrant place to live, visit and invest.

Louisville ranked high in the most recent Governing and Living Cities Equipt to Innovate survey in the area of utilizing data effectively in decision-making. High-ranking cities have a data-driven culture and often a department or designated innovation officer in charge. Data is accessible to the public and it’s clear how the city uses data to drive decision-making.

It can be fairly straightforward to link decision-making to data when it comes to investments in services, departments and initiatives. Cities can establish and track performance metrics, prioritize funding, and make changes based on outcomes and public input. But when it comes to economic development and making investment decisions on what industries to back, data can be less predictable. For example, research indicates that climate change may have an impact on the production of barley, which would drive up prices for whiskey, beer and other alcohol where barley is a key ingredient.

Industries and markets often change much faster than the pace of local government, especially when it comes to planning and funding approval. To hedge against changing markets, think long term. Make sure that economic development, chamber and innovation officers, or anyone charged with business development gathers industry reports. Seek the advice of residents or local industry executives who work in the industry informally or as part of an established committee. From a planning perspective, encourage flex space development that can accommodate a variety of uses, and consider overlay districts that attract desirable uses.

Local governments are now much more comfortable utilizing data to inform city services, but compiling data about private industry can be more complex. In many ways, cities need to be entrepreneurial. Staff or volunteers in a community with fewer resources can start by developing a business plan similar to what a business start up would write. If there is no budget to hire a market research company, the Small Business Association (SBA) has some great suggestions on where to start research such as the U.S. Census Bureau,,, the SBA Office of Advocacy and SBA's Business Data and Statistics page. With the right data at hand, cities will be more equipt to make the best investment decisions for their communities.

Data affirms and extends what cities often already know about themselves. Now the world can too. Like Napa (wine) and Milwaukee (beer) before it, Louisville tells the story of bourbonism through numbers.