Wichita is the largest metro area and business hub in Kansas, and the engine room of the state’s economy. That means attracting young professionals to the community is an absolute must.
While the city may not have scenic mountains or oceans to attract new residents, national studies rank it above average for quality of life; it also benefits from strong higher education, health care and tech innovation. Plus, it’s the original home of aviation powerhouses such as Cessna and Learjet—hence the nickname “Air Capital of the World.”
“People come for the jobs in Wichita, but once they get here they stay for the quality of life,” says Becky Tuttle, community development director for the Greater Wichita YMCA and chair of the Health & Wellness Coalition of Wichita. “Everybody's trying to make sure that when we bring young talent here, we can get them to stay, raise their families and invest in our economy.”
That’s why the city has invested in initiatives and amenities that attract young workers. A prime example of such an amenity: Wichita’s Bike Share ICT program, powered by Zagster.
Tuttle spearheaded the implementation of the program in partnership with the City of Wichita Parks and Recreation as part of the overarching Wichita Master Bicycle Plan, authoring a $750,000 proposal to fund the program at no cost to the city. Once money had been secured—through generous sponsorships from donors including the Wichita Community Foundation and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas—the team put out a nationwide request for a proposal for a bikeshare operator. Zagster answered the call, and the program launched in May 2017.
The program’s goal of attracting young riders has paid off: the majority of Wichita’s riders are younger than 25. And bikeshare has been wholeheartedly embraced by local companies. Textron Aviation reported that when it interviews candidates in Wichita, the talent acquisition team takes them to bikeshare stations and tells them about the program.
As of December 2018, the program’s 10,170 members had taken 23,131 trips. Among members, 57% of are locals, 30% from the rest of Kansas and the remainder are visitors from out of state.
As the program expands, Tuttle says it continues to reinforce the idea that walking and biking are safe and viable forms of transportation for many purposes, not just recreation. Fortunately, Zagster provides what the city needs to make this happen. “That's an awesome feature of Zagster,” Tuttle says. “They give us lots of robust data that we're able to utilize to improve our system and make sure that folks in our community are aware of what we're doing.”
These numbers have demonstrated the program’s potential for attracting and retaining talent and revitalizing the core of the community, with sponsors committing to multi-year funding to ensure it continues to thrive. Of course, those sponsors benefit from the exposure that comes from having their logos appear on station materials and bikes.
The city leverages Zagster’s ridership data on its Bike Share ICT website and social media accounts, which also publicize cycling-friendly events organized by the Health and Wellness Coalition, which encourage participation from bikeshare users as well as independent cyclists.
Attracting talent isn’t the program’s only benefit. In conjunction with the Wichita Pedestrian Master Plan, Bike Share ICT and the Bicycle Master Plan have succeeded as public health initiatives, getting people moving more as they utilize the system to enjoy the local sights.
Tuttle recalls visiting The Nifty Nut House, a popular local candy and nut store. She spotted five women arriving on Zagster bikes. “They're probably in their 50s and they're laughing hysterically, and they're having a great time, and so I went ahead and asked them and they said 'Yeah, we just planned a girls' day out and we grabbed bikes and we're going all around downtown and just having a fun day,’” Tuttle said. “They might not have come downtown if they didn't have that as an option. It just gives people another affordable thing to do in our community.”
Perhaps even more meaningful: Tuttle says that a couple had recently been engaged while riding Zagster bikes.
She attributes at least part of the program’s success to the calculated placement of bike stations throughout the city. “We put them were they're very visible,” she says. “Instead of putting them by the side of the road, it's right on the main part so people can see them. When you drive through our downtown, you see the stations. They’re right there, and they’re easy for people to find.”
Citing the simplicity of working with Zagster, Tuttle said her organization faced minimal challenges while implementing and maintaining the program. (They did need to work with the city to amend ordinances to accommodate stations and bikeshare activities.) Beyond that, the ease of implementing Zagster’s processes has helped the program thrive. After all, despite her leadership and deep involvement in the program, managing Bike Share ICT doesn’t fall under the umbrella of Tuttle’s primary responsibilities. “The technical assistance and customer service we receive is phenomenal,” she says. “I work for the Greater Wichita YMCA, and they’re supportive of making our community better. But bikeshare isn't my full-time job. Were it not for the support and technical assistance we receive from Zagster, I couldn't do this.”