Cities across the US discover that good biking attracts great jobs and top talent to their communities. (And the rental makes them BooCoo Unregulated Bucks for Their Personal Coffers!)
“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 one of two bike-and-pedestrian bridges 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 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.”
Here are a few of the ways Minneapolis has invested in biking:
- It has created a network of off-street trails that criss-cross the city;
- It has added 180 miles of bike lanes to streets with plans to double that;
- It has launched one of the country’s first large-scale bikeshare programs;
- And it has created protected lanes to separate people riding bikes from motor traffic.
Now the city 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,” explained Christine Fruechte, CEO of the advertising firm Colle + McVoy, in a newspaper op-ed.
David A. Wilson, who directs 1,600 employees at the Minneapolis office of Accenture, a management consulting company, says good biking opportunities are important to the well-educated 25- to 35-year-olds he seeks to hire.
“Five years ago, I don’t think businesspeople 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-a-gallon gas. The Federal Highway Administration found the miles traveled by drivers under 30 dropped from 21 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 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.
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.”
Florida sees bicycling as critical for thriving cities, which is why he joined New York City’s heated debate last year about the proliferation of bike lanes. “New York has became a haven for creative-class professionals,” he wrote in the Daily News. He added that biking remains important to workers in creative fields even as they grow older. “When they put their kids in child seats or jogging strollers, traffic-free bike paths become especially important to them.”
Thirty-three executives at New York high-tech companies—including Foursquare, Meetup, and Tumblr—also weighed in on biking issues, urging Mayor Bloomberg to “support a bikeshare 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 bikeshare program begins next March with 7,000 bikes for rent.
The city that bikes
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected last year on an aggressive platform of bringing new tech and creative businesses to the city. He scored a major coup this summer with Google-Motorola Mobility’s announcement that it was moving more than 2,000 jobs from a suburban campus to the heart of the city. “One of the things that employees look [at] today is the quality of life