Tony Wilson

There isn’t a Mancunian of a certain age who hasn’t heard of Tony Wilson. His wiki describes him as a record label owner (Factory Records), TV presenter (Granada Reports), nightclub owner (the iconic Hacienda) and a couple of other things this force of nature had in his personal portfolio. 

Known as “Mr Manchester”, he was primarily credited with helping to put the Manchester scene on the map — in particular music – due to his founding of Factory Records and The Hacienda. But, like anything successful, it can spill over into other areas of the life of a city. And one of those other areas is business and economic growth. 

There’s no denying that Manchester is in the middle of exponential economic growth. You only have to look at the sector-leading expansion of the tech and digital in the city, not to mention the rapid development of Media City, to understand why Manchester is becoming such an important part of the “Northern Powerhouse” initiative. 

Added to which the recent Chinese-led city-centre based investment of commercial property has totally revamped some areas of the city. Ironically enough, one of the most recent areas of development in the city centre is the site of the old Granada TV studio, which has now relocated to Media City. This area of the city is being developed into a commercial area that will support the expansion of the “gig-economy”. Manchester is fast becoming a digital centre of excellence (possibly expedited by the link with the University of Manchester – where the world’s first computer was built). 

Also experiencing dramatic growth is the media production sector. More than half of the sprawling BBC departments are now based in Media City, just outside of Manchester, alongside ITV and the plethora of media SME’s that support the main broadcasters. To serve this development, commercial co-working spaces are being built and revamped that would support the army of embryonic SME’s and freelancers who serve the tech and media industries. So, as you can see, Manchester is and has been for some time, experiencing a complete explosion in economic growth. 

And I believe that, indirectly, in some small part, Tony Wilson and his relentless, heart-filled promotion of his city helped at the embryonic stage of Manchester becoming the boom city that it is today.And, his legacy is not finished yet. The Factory Project, named after Tony’s company, is a £110m arts venue is scheduled for completion in 2022 and will be a permanent home for the biennial Manchester International Festival, which also serves to bring many visitors and revenue into the city. Funded by government to the tune of £78m with the rest coming from private funding, the new building will house all theatre, TV, music and the usual aspects of a major international arts festival.

In his own lifetime, however, Tony famously never made any money. It is well documented how he had to accept donations to fund his extortionately expensive cancer treatment. To quote him on the Hacienda project “We made history, not money”. But it is the absolute idolization of his hometown that made Tony Wilson the legend that he is. 

And, I guess, the Manchester business community is grateful.