Bike Trail Boosts Business in Mississippi
[Note: As a board member of Bike Walk Mississippi I had the honor of joining advocates from my home state during the Thursday lobby day of last week’s National Bike Summit. With the week centered around the economics of bicycling, we decided to let James Moore, bicycle shop owner and National Bicycle Dealer Association Treasurer, take the lead in our meetings with legislators and their staff. What he presented was too good not to share with a wider audience. Similar stories exist in all of our communities- learning and sharing them should be an integral part of all of our work to create a Bicycle Friendly America. — J. Peel]
In 1984 I opened Moore’s Bicycle Shop in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. As with any new business, I struggled the first few years getting off the ground. In fact, for the first 16 years it was a one man operation with the occasional part time employee. Things started to change in 1994 after our region received a Transportation Enhancement grant of just over $2.5 million and another in 1999 for $2 million to create the Longleaf Trace multi-use trail.
Since the trail’s opening we have seen a significant increase in bicycling – and business. In the years leading to the opening of the trail, my business struggled to average $220,000 in annual sales with my one part time worker. When the trail opened in 2000, annual sales doubled and have remained at that level since.
Because of this investment into bicycling facilities in our community, my workforce has grown from one part time staff to two full time employees and three to four part time workers overnight. My part time staff are all working to put themselves through school at the local university. In the decade since the trail opened I’ve been fortunate enough to have employed over 30 such students, some of whom stayed with the business through graduation. This increase in staff has generated over half a million in additional payroll because of the increase in our business due to the Longleaf Trace.
As a direct result of this federal investment in our local community, my small business has generated an additional $175,000 in sales tax for the state of which $31,500 (18%) was returned to the city of Hattiesburg.
With this growth in business, I outgrew my small 1,400 square foot store and purchased and remodeled a larger building. I transformed a vacant structure into a 4,500 square foot showroom with a 2,000 square foot warehouse. Along with the purchase were 9 overgrown lots I cleaned up and preserve as a “test ride area” that also serves as open green space for the surrounding neighborhood. At the smaller location I paid $1,400 in property taxes. At our larger facility I now pay over $8,000 in annual property taxes that benefit my city, county and local school district.
Since the trail opened the increase in payroll, property tax and sales tax totals for my small business have been over $750,000- and it’s not just me. The popularity of the Long Leaf Trace has also caused many new business start ups to launch along the 41 mile trail to cater to all of the local and out of state trail users, most of which share similar success stories.
Even with all of this, the greatest economic development impact of the Longleaf Trace is yet to be experienced. Downtown Hattiesburg suffered an exodus of retail businesses in the mid 70’s with the opening of the malls. With most buildings sitting vacant for 2 decades, historic downtown Hattiesburg is beginning to be revitalized with restaurants, art galleries and music venues. Investors have now purchased several of the larger buildings to turn into housing that will cater to the 16,000 university students. The final key to this puzzle of success will be the next expansion of the Longleaf Trace which will link the university campus with the expansion of housing downtown. This vital 2 mile extension of the trace connecting the campus to downtown development will rely on Transportation Enhancements for its construction. The trail is critical to this success as it will allow students to live downtown yet be on campus with a 10 minute bicycle ride.
Our local leaders understand that investing in bicycling facilities is also investing in the health and vitality of our community. Without the federal and community investment none of this would have been possible. Without continued federal support, Hattiesburg will struggle in achieving its goals of becoming a more livable and economically vibrant community in which to raise a family, get an education or operate a business.