The City's Economy
In the mid eighteenth century Brighton was transformed from a declining fishing town into a fashionable Georgian resort. With the arrival of the railway in 1841 it became a mass tourist destination, well conjured up in the image of "London By The Sea". There are some who imagine that the city's economy is and always has been the 'bucket and spade' economy of a seaside town, but this is a gross over-simplification. Granted, tourism is important to the economy but even then tourism doesn't stand still, and what Brighton offers to the tourist has to be constantly reviewed and evolved - otherwise the tourists stop coming.
But even in the Victorian period Brighton developed other strings to the bow of its economy. The railway didn't only bring trains laden with holiday makers, it also brought the railway industry. In 1852 in its engineering workshops next to Brighton station (now the New England Quarter mixed use development) the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Co. (LBSCR) built its first locomotive. By the 1890s more than 2,600 workers were employed. Brighton remained a railway engineering town right up until 1950s, throughout, in fact, the heyday of the railways in Britain.
It was on the foundation of railway engineering that in the twentieth century Brighton developed an engineering industry that was a genuinely mass employer. New greenfield industrial estates, such as Hollingbury (employing around 8,000 workers), were created after the Second World War to accommodate the growth in engineering, but in the 1980s Brighton took the full force of the decline of the manufacturing sector in Britain and today engineering accounts for no more than about 4% of the workforce.
So with tourism stumbling and engineering plummeting, unemployment in the 1980s rose steeply, reaching its highest point in early 1990s. Fortunately Brighton did have other strings to its bow. As the largest population in Sussex it was a regional centre for local government and for other national public services and public utilities. Today health and public administration employs about 16% of the workforce.
Back in the 1960s two universities were founded, the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton (established as Brighton Polytechnic). When English language teaching began to develop on the back of mass tourism in the 1970s, Brighton developed a significant presence in that sector, and today it continues to grow. Indeed, today, TEFL teaching has become an important part of the whole tertiary sector, the universities and FE college, as well as the TEFL private sector. Education accounts for 10% of the workforce, higher than the average for the rest of the South East and for Britain nationally.
Most significantly Brighton developed a financial and business services sector, which today employs about 25% of the workforce. Brighton's biggest private sector employer is American Express, which employs about 4000 people in Sussex as a whole. Its long association with the city began in 1977 when its European operations headquarters was opened in Edward Street.
Not surprisingly, hotels and catering are significant employers and account for just over 8% of employment (about 2% above both regional and national averages), but it is surprising to know that at about 16% the wholesale and retail sector is lower - as a percentage - than both regional and national averages.
Another characteristic of Brighton's economy is the strong representation of the micro business. One startling statistic is that 17.3% of working residents are self-employed.