• WisBusiness

Monday, May 18, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Biking adds to state's economy


By MaryBeth Matzek
When thinking about tourism and Wisconsin, waterparks, the Packers and the state's plentiful lakes pop into most people's heads. But what about bikes? It's true, biking – whether it's cyclists heading down long trail stretches or mountain bikers navigating courses – the sport plays a role in the state's tourism economy, which grew 7.8 percent in 2014, according to figures released in early May by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

While the Department of Tourism doesn't single out how much cyclists contribute to that amount, a study in back in 2010 by a group of University of Wisconsin graduate students found that the impact of recreational cycling topped deer hunting when it came to its economic impact in the state ($1.5 billion vs. $1.4 billion.)

"Biking is important to tourism in Wisconsin," says Danielle Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. "We were the first state in the country to convert abandoned railroad beds into multiuse trails."

That project known as Rails to Trails, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The first – and one of the most well-known trails is the 32-mile Elroy to Sparta trail. In Sparta, bicycle recreation brings in more than $924 million annually, with an estimated 100,000 people using the trail each year.

All told, there are 80 former rail beds that have been converted to multi-use trails in Wisconsin.

Beyond recreational bikers, the state also has several mountain bike trails that attract competitors and those just interested in the sport.

Wisconsin is also home to dozens of bike races – whether it's raising money for local organizations or an actual race, such as Race the Lake, a 90-mile ride around Lake Winnebago held each August. Those events attract not only local enthusiasts, but also those from outside the immediate area who need places to sleep, fuel up and eat.

Besides recreational biking, Wisconsin (despite the not-so-great biking weather for nearly half the year) is one of the country's leaders when it comes to commuters using bikes to get to and from work. The Fox Valley area is among the leaders annually in the National Bike Challenge with the Wisconsin Bike Federation advertising to companies the many benefits of having employees who bike to work (lower overall health costs, more productive workers, etc.)

Exporting kudos

Three Wisconsin companies -- Chippewa Valley Bean Co. Inc., Gamber- Johnson LLC and PreventionGenetics, LLC – have been honored with the 2015 Governor's Export Achievement Award, which recognizes their success in global business development. Chippewa Valley Bean of Menomonie grew from a family farm into a company that specializes in the growing, processing and delivery of high-quality kidney beans for canning.

The company is the largest exporter of dark red kidney beans in the country and has the largest kidney bean processing facility in North America.

Gamber-Johnson of Stevens Point is manufacturer of docking stations and mounting solutions for the public safety, law enforcement, military, telecommunications and transportation markets.

Until 2011, the company's sales were limited to just the United States and Canada, but exports now make up nearly 15 percent of overall company sales with one-quarter of all docks being sold outside of North America.

PreventionGenetics of Marshfield provides clinical DNA tests for genetic inherited disorders. The company tests are used in more than 70 companies worldwide, with international sales growing by 53 percent since 2013.

More room for food donations

Feeding America is building a new $5 million facility in Little Chute, which is between Appleton and Green Bay off of Interstate 41. The new 40,000- square-foot warehouse will replace a much smaller one in Omro, which is west of Oshkosh. The larger facility will allow room for more donations, which are distributed to local food pantries.

The larger facility, which should open later this year, will also have room for community and educational programs.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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