Update: My theory on bikes, bars and techies

bikebyrI promise, I’m not going to turn this blog into all bicycling, all the time, but I couldn’t pass up pointing to an NPR story that ran earlier this week that adds more validity to what started out, on my part, as an off-the-cuff quip to a reporter about how Nashville can attract smart, tech-focused recent graduates from southern universities. Here was the key quote, as reported by Jamie McGee on the blog of the Nashville Business Journal’s Biz Blog:

“I am a big fan of any effort that encourages tech startups, so I never want to be or sound critical of any efforts that use terms like mentoring or incubating…but I think the best thing Nashville can do to attract young talented engineers and developers is to stay focused on maintaining and encouraging a robust bar scene and to create more bike lanes.”

(I expanded and explained the quip in a follow-up blog post. In a nutshell, “bars” represent after-work social and fun opportunities and “bike lanes” project a healthy lifestyle.)

On NPR’s Morning Edition on Tuesday, a story ran about Colorado using the state’s top ranking on various health and fitness surveys as a central message in its economic development efforts.


“Businesses looking to relocate are making the health of a state’s population part of their decision-making process. One Fortune 500 CEO explains it can save millions in reduced health insurance claims and absenteeism. Colorado’s economic development officials are already trying to improve the health and fitness of the next generation of workers in order to stay competitive.”

Now, I could venture some theories related to “ freakonomic” reasons Colorado ranks so high in such surveys, but such reasons wouldn’t matter. The fact is, Colorado has turned such a ranking into a great story on which to base an effective economic development effort. Likewise (and for some of the same reasons), I’m sure that Colorado would rank high on “bars per captia” as well. In other words, Colorado is a perfect example of a “bike and bars” region.

My point is this: These days, projecting the image that people who live in your region are healthy and fit should be a priority message if you are trying to attract the kind of people who want to work for and, apparently, already run, dynamic companies. (Along with reasons like having access to good education, affordable housing, low taxes, location, access to land and air transportation, etc.)

Like being a major music and entertainment center, or being home to the largest concentration of for-profit health-care management businesses in the country, having a “culture of health and fitness” isn’t something you can fake your way into. It takes commitment on the part of a city and region.

Nashville (and Williamson County, to its south), have moved past lip service to such a cause, but we still have a long way to go. Efforts like the programs promoted on the city’s website and app called, “Nashvitiality.org” and the continuously growing network of Greenways and Bikeways are clear signs of the city’s recognition of the importance of encouraging healthy lifestyles.

And, yes, I’m partial to bicycles and would, if made czar of such things, apply Bloombergian approaches to bike-laning the city (and, no doubt, would be burned at the stake by the 99.9% of the population who drive cars everywhere).

But, to get back to my point, we are moving into an era where being healthy and fit as individuals and as a community and region is not a “nice to be;” they are “have to be.”

And there are certain eating and lifestyle patterns in our region that make it an even greater challenge that require us to place a very high emphasis on making it easy to get outside and walk, bike and play.

Apparently, it’s not just good for our personal health, it’s good for business, also.