Unexpected Ways That Bicycling Is Proving a Boon for Business
“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 bikeshare 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.
“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.” He notes that Accenture recently relocated their Boston and Washington, D.C. offices from suburbs to the city to offer employees better opportunities for biking, walking and transit.
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—and that does not even count the past three years of recession and $4 gallon gas. 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 means diverse cultural opportunities, plentiful cafes and restaurants, a tolerant social climate, a variety of housing choices and ample transportation options like biking—not only for commuting to work, but also for recreation after work and, in some cases, over the lunch hour.