The modern economy is driven by human talent, ideas and brain power. In the old economy, it was often proximity to natural resources like timber, iron ore or coal. This economy relied on a lot of physical infrastructure -- big plants, rail lines, ports and the like.
The engines of the new economy are as a mobile as a laptop computer. So, the places that will be successful are the ones that can attract new economy entrepreneurs. Once you accept that, then things like access to start-up capital, airline connections and overall quality of life become the preeminent economic development tools.
Last week, Madison officially kicked off the B-cycle bike sharing system, which has essentially been donated to the city by Trek. The 35 stations and 350 rental bikes will improve everyone's mobility. But its real value is that it helps keep us in the game for attracting talented job producers.
When I was mayor, I always felt we were in competition for mobile talent with places like Boulder, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland and Austin. That's why I pushed for things like the smoking ban, domestic partner benefits, high-speed rail and streetcars. It's not just about the policy merits of those things individually; it's about creating the image of a forward-looking, progressive and cool city.
For Madison not to have a bike sharing system while other competitive cities did would have left us behind.
At the official launch last week, Mayor Soglin was gracious to give me some credit for getting the system in place, but the real credit belongs to Trek and its owner John Burke. This system costs over $2 million, and the Waterloo-based company is essentially giving it to the community for free. Trek is able to test its system in its own backyard, but doesn't expect to make money. John did it in large part just because Madison is his hometown.
We're lucky to have a business community that gets the new economy, and B-cycle is one more way for Madison to remain competitive.
Now, about those streetcars...