Jun 16, 2023 - Business

Northwest Arkansas' bet on cycling is paying off

A determined-looking man covered in mud and wearing a bike helmet is carrying a bike on his shoulder.

A competitor in the World Cup Cyclo-cross in October 2021. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

The cycling industry drove $159 million of economic impact in Northwest Arkansas during 2022.

  • The sport was responsible for another $59 million in avoided health care costs.

What's happening: The Walton Family Foundation commissioned the University of Arkansas' Center for Business and Economic Research to estimate the economic and health benefits of cycling in NWA. The final report was recently released.

Why it matters: Several million dollars have been spent by public-private collaborations developing nearly 500 miles of paved and natural-surface trails, as well as venues like Fayetteville's Centennial Park. The study shows there's a lasting — and growing — return on investment.

Context: In addition to retail bike sellers, the report looked at revenue generated by tourism, events and races, bike and accessory manufacturing, trail construction and maintenance, and taxes.

What they did: Researchers used available economic data, interviews and a survey of 800 area residents. An economic system called IMPLAN was used to measure direct, indirect and induced economic impact.

By the numbers: The impact in 2022 was up 16% from $137 million reflected in a similar report from 2017.

  • There are an estimated 109 bicycle-related businesses in NWA.
  • The industry supported nearly 750 jobs and generated $6 million in state and local taxes.
  • 63% of residents surveyed reported owning at least one bike during the past year.
  • 44% of respondents were mountain bikers, 38% road cyclists and 17% gravel riders.
  • 58% of NWA's cyclists were male; 39% were female.

Of note: The three-day Walmart UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships held in Fayetteville at the end of January 2022 drew more than 17,500 spectators and added nearly $10 million to the area economy.

Meanwhile, the health impacts measure the incidence and costs of four chronic illnesses: heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

  • The study estimated that people cycling five or more days a week have the highest likelihood of avoiding chronic diseases.
  • 5.6% of Benton County's residents met that criteria, which translated to $45.2 million in saved health care costs.
  • 2% of Washington County residents doing the same meant $14.2 million in saved health costs.

What we're watching: Fayetteville isn't on the calendar for a UCI Cyclo-cross cup or championship in 2023-24, so we'll keep an eye out for the 2025 calendar.

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