Newsmaker Q&A: Pumped about proposed bike cluster

Dee Wanger is the owner of Ridekick – the makers of an electric bicycle trailer – and a founding member of the Fort Collins Bike Industry Alliance. A group of representatives from the alliance returned from Interbike, a bike trade show, in September, starry-eyed and set on forming a city-recognized bike industry cluster. The Business Report caught up with Wanger to find out how the city stands to gain from the growing bike industry and why we need an organization to cultivate it.

Question: What is the Fort Collins Bike Industry Alliance, and what exactly is its charge?

Answer: It came to be when we realized that there were 23 companies that contribute something into the bike industry here. And whether it’s a nutrition bar, an electric product, clothing, just one component like shocks or pedals or seats, or whether it’s a bicycle trailer, like in our case, or a custom-built bike, all of these companies contribute into the bicycle industry.

Once we realized there were 23 of us, we realized, ‘Wow, we are a contributing entity into the economic base of Fort Collins,’ in jobs, in product sales. …

We piloted the group at this year’s Interbike, the bike industry trade show that’s held in Las Vegas every year. Attending trade shows, strengthening marketing efforts, as well as having a web presence as a community that has a bike-industry economic entity are all part of it. We have also begun to keep metrics on these companies to learn and be able to watch what kind of jobs we’re creating in the area and if we attract any new companies to the area.

Q: After the Interbike conference, you suggested that there might be a Fort Collins Bike Cluster formed out of the alliance. What are the incentives for becoming an official cluster and why is now the right time for Fort Collins?

A: As a cluster, it enables somebody from the city or contracted by the city to be a third-party coordinator. We do need a third party to be the coordinator of the group and to manage the metrics because within the group there are competitors, so that third party helps to equalize that.

As a cluster, there may be a small sum of city money for a part-time person to tend to the organizational aspects of the group, not necessarily the content aspect of the group. The content aspects are managed by the group itself. It’s the coordinator’s job to call meetings and make sure that communication is going full-circle.

Funding from the city would be minimal. Even for the trade show, it was about $5,000 to support that. There was a misprint as to what the projected income out of that $5,000 investment was. When I polled all the people that participated in the booth, we projected that we would generate between $80,000 and $120,000. I think what was printed in the Coloradoan was $8,000. So it’s better than 10 times what was originally invested. In that regard, there is some money made available by the city, but with the intent and the belief that we will see it tenfold, and that its impact would be tenfold for local businesses.

Q: How does the city stand to benefit from having a bike cluster?

A: Again it’s job-creation. The more these companies grow, the more jobs that they’re going to offer to people in the city. Some of us do manufacturing here in Fort Collins, and it’s not just a sales and administrative force, but we’re providing jobs along the spectrum of engineering and design, manufacturing and G&A.

We make a stronger voice for our bicycle culture here. Currently, we’re (Fort Collins) at a gold, according to the League of American Bicyclists, and how great would it be to get up to a platinum level? Just look at breweries. Having more breweries has made more micro-brewery interested drinkers. So having the companies based here that are creating great culture as companies, contributing into the culture of our city, I think it does build a greater interest in bicycling itself.

Q: As the owner of Ridekick and a member of the alliance, what do you think makes the Fort Collins bike industry unique?

A: We run the spectrum of interest. From Fort Collins you can road bike on flat terrain, hill terrain and gnarly hill terrain. There are races up here, and it is a great place for a variety of road-biking experiences. It is a great place for mountain-biking experiences, and it is a great place for trick riding. We have bike parks, and we’ve got a great trail system that appeals to all areas of our bicycle culture here. We’ve got an interest in sustainability, so we have two bamboo-bike producers here. We have trailers for animals, for special-needs riders. Ridekick is a whole new product category. There is nothing like it in the world. There is also an electric-bike builder, a fixie builder, custom bikes. We meet many aspects of the industry, and so does the Fort Collins region provide opportunities for all aspects of bicycling.

Q: What can we look for from the cluster in the next year?

A: I think because we’re in the early stages, we’re really starting to hit a gel point in figuring out who we are as a group and what we can accomplish as a group. In our first year, we are committed to setting up a website, so that if somebody were to do a keyword search for ‘Fort Collins’ and ‘bicycling,’ this site would be one that comes up, and it would have the logo and a link out to all of the different alliance members. So promotion in advertising to bring awareness to the group and to bring awareness to the individual companies to build those businesses.

The other thing, and this will be harder to actually measure, is the networking among the industry players. The networking is so valuable because just to be able to talk shop with people who understand your perspective and problems and needs, and be able to share resources when that is possible, share ideas, share connections, all of that. These relationships that we forge with people in our industry are really important for people for forward progress and for our feelings of importance for the contribution to our industries.

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