12/12/12

Bicycling Means Better BusinessBicycling Means Better Business

By Jay Walljasper, guest blogger

Editor's Note: At Bike Walk Twin Cities, we know that investments in bicycling and walking options pay off in many ways, including improved health, safety, and air quality. As Jay Walljasper reports, Minneapolis and other cities across the country are discovering that good bicycling also attracts great jobs and top talent.

"Biking is definitely part of our strategy to attract and retain businesses in order to compete in a mobile world," says Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak as we glide across the Mississippi river on a bike-and-pedestrian bridge-one of two that connect downtown to the University of Minnesota. "We want young talent to come here and stay. And good biking is one of the least expensive ways to send that message."

As we turn onto to a riverside bike path to inspect another span the mayor wants to convert to a bike-ped bridge, he recounts a recent conversation. "I was having dinner with a creative director that a local firm was eager to hire for a key post. He was an American living in Europe, and we spent most of the evening talking about the importance of biking and walking to the life of a city," Rybak says, smiling. "He took the job."

Minneapolis has invested heavily in biking-creating a network of off-street trails criss-crossing the city, adding 180 miles of bike lanes to city streets with plans to double that, launching one of the country's first large-scale bike-share programs, and creating protected lanes to separate people riding bikes from motor traffic-which is why it lands near the top of all lists ranking America's best bike cities.

That "ratchets up" the city's appeal to businesses in many fields, Rybak says.

 

Nice Ride MN launched in Minneapolis as one of the country's first large-scale bike-share programs.

 

 "We moved from the suburbs to downtown Minneapolis to allow our employees to take advantage of the area's many trails and to put the office in a more convenient location for commuting by pedal or foot," explained Christine Fruechte, CEO of large advertising firm Colle + McVoy, in a newspaper op-ed. "Our employees are healthier, happier, and more productive. We are attracting some of the best talents in the industry."

David A. Wilson, who directs 1,600 employees at the Minneapolis office of the Accenture management consulting company, says good biking opportunities are important to the well-educated 25-35 year-olds he seeks to hire. "Five years ago, I don't think business people were even thinking about bikes as a part of business. Today it's definitely part of the discussion."

 

A Creative Generation Loses Its Car Keys

Young people today are driving significantly less than previous generations, according to a flurry of recent reports. Even Motor Trend magazine notes that young professionals flocking to cities today are less inclined to buy cars and "more likely to spend the money on smartphones, tablets, laptops and $2,000-plus bikes." Annual miles traveled by car among all 16- to 34-year olds dropped 23 percent from 2001 to 2009 according to a study from the Frontier Group think tank. The Federal Highway Administration found the miles traveled by drivers under 30 dropped from 21 percent to 14 percent of the total between 1995 and 2009.

These young people represent the "creative class" talent pool that many companies covet. That's why civic, business and political leaders in cities around the country are paying attention to the next generation's wishes for lively, livable places to work and play. This includes biking-not only for commuting to work, but also for recreation.

 

Many young professionals are increasingly drawn to lively, livable, bike-friendly places to work and play.

 

Richard Florida, the economic forecaster who coined the phrase "creative class," recently described these sought-after workers in the Wall Street Journal as "less interested in owning cars and big houses. They prefer to live in central locations, where they can rent an apartment and use transit or walk or bike to work."

Thirty-three executives at New York high-tech companies-including Foursquare, Meetup, and Tumblr-urged Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year to "support a bike-share system as a way to attract and retain the investment and talent for New York City to remain competitive in the fast growing digital media and internet-oriented economy." Bloomberg agreed, and the bike-share program begins next March with 7,000 bikes for rent.

 

The City That Bikes

Martha Roskowski-director of the Green Lane Project, which promotes protected bike lanes across the country-explains, "Cities that want to shine are building these kind of better bike facilities as part of a suite of assets that attract business. And they find that bike infrastructure is cheap compared to new sports stadiums and light-rail lines, and can be done much faster."

The boom in biking is also creating opportunities in the real estate sector. Even in the slow economy, $200 million in new apartments are currently under construction adjacent to the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, a bike "freeway" cutting through the south side of the city.

Another benefit businesses see for locating in bike-friendly locations is a break on health insurance costs. QBP, a bike parts distributor in the Minneapolis area employing 600, offered a series of incentives for employees to commute by bike and discovered an unexpected bonus-a 4.4 percent reduction in health care costs, totaling $170,000 a year. Tracy Pleschourt-partner at Carmichael Lynch, an ad agency in downtown Minneapolis that promotes biking-is excited about the possibilities of the just-launched Zap program, which electronically documents bike trips using on-bike RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) devices and trail-edge sensors. Right now the program offers only gift certificates and discount gear as prizes for frequent biking, but insurers are looking at it as a way to reward health-conscious companies with lots of employees riding bikes.

 

Jay Walljasper, author of The Great Neighborhood Book and All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons, chronicles urban life for a variety of publications. His website: www.JayWalljasper.com. Adapted from an article from the Green Lanes Project.