Proof that the bike industry boosts the economy

March 27, 2014

by Rachel Walker

We all know that riding a bike is good for the soul, but we also have proof that it’s also good for the bottom line. A recently released study from Oregon, Oregon Bicycle Industry: Regional Economic Significance, quantified the state bike industry sales in 2012 at $440 million. Combined with the estimated $400 million associated with travelers who participate in bike-related activities, suddenly the Oregon bike industry’s significance has a reach upwards of $840 million.

“Almost a billion dollars – that’s a big deal and a major highlight of the study,” says Scott Warren, Insight and Planning Manager for Travel Oregon and the Oregon Tourism Commission. “It’s relatively easy to communicate the joy of bike riding and to say it is important to the economy and tourism. But at the end of the day, people demand numbers. This [study] helps demonstrate why the bike industry is valuable.”

Granted, it’s a fraction of the state’s $12.7 billion forestry and wood product industry, but it’s still a strong, growing number. And it’s a number officials in other states could stand to take note. After all, according to a 2012 report from the National Bike Dealers Association, bike riding is the seventh most popular recreational activity in the U.S. In other words: a lot of Americans ride bikes, and those Americans have been increasing pressure on politicians and planners to make bike riding easier, safer and more prevalent in their communities.

Initiatives like the Safe Routes to School and PeopleForBikes’ Green Lane Project underscore the importance of improving bike safety. Now, this economic study adds credence to the argument that biking can actually improve the economy. More, it offers lessons of what works and how that can be extrapolated for other communities.

The hard data in the study included identifying where the majority of bicycle business and organization employment is located (Portland metro, Willamette Valley, followed by Central and Southern Oregon). The study also named Central Oregon as the most concentrated area of bike industry employment (this will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever ridden, lived in or visited Bend) and estimated 2012 bike industry earnings are $83.3 million.

Perhaps the most interesting part in the study is the spotlight it shines on the young entrepreneurs driving the bike industry in Oregon.

“Many of the people in the industry have young businesses and great ideas,” said Warren.

According to the study, a significant number of industry insiders report “substantial” opportunities for expansion, meaning that there is plenty of room for you to start your bike business in Oregon.

Coupling that optimism with the industry’s economic significance foreshadows a bicycle friendly future for Oregon visitors. Whether tourists come specifically for the riding or just end up throwing a leg over a bike while in the state, many visitors will find themselves exposed to some part of the bicycle industry. And that, said Warren, is a great thing.

“There are a fair number of bicycle tourists, people who are curious and enthusiastic,” he said. “And there are also tourists who come to Oregon and then discover the great and varied type of riding there is to do here. This study helps us show those in the industry what bicycle tourism can do for them.”

And for those of us not in Oregon, this study holds lessons of how we can achieve similar success in our hometowns. 

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