This October, 10 women from different U.S. bike industry companies converged on Washington, D.C., for the annual PeopleForBikes Women’s Executive Fly-In. The fly-in presented an uncommon opportunity to work together promoting bike-friendly policies with industry peers. “It’s not about ‘we have competing products’ or ‘we’re competing to get more business from the same retailers’,” said attendee Jessica Grenwis, director of marketing at QBP. “We’re working toward a common goal that benefits the industry.”
At each fly-in, PeopleForBikes coordinates a series of meetings with federal lawmakers or their staffers, offering bike business leaders the chance to highlight the industry’s contributions to local, state and national economies. Each round of meetings also has a specific policy focus. In October, attendees targeted the importance of the TIGER grant program, which funds multimodal transportation projects that include bike infrastructure, and asked policymakers to oppose the ‘Woodall Amendment.’ The amendment, which was added to the 2018 Appropriations Bill, would undermine local control of infrastructure funding by pitting state transportation projects against local needs.
Attendees met with legislative staff in teams of two-to-four people, with each executive leading the meeting for her district. The format shows an industry strong and unified in driving its policy agenda forward, while also offering participants a front-row seat on Capitol Hill. “It’s nice to step outside of your bubble of everything that you’re focusing on on a daily basis, and gain a better understanding of how the legislative process works,” Grenwis said. Like Grenwis, Jennifer Naeger, attorney at Trek, was a first-time attendee. She found lawmakers and staffers with open doors and open ears. “They really wanted to hear what we had to say,” she says. “They asked good questions, and we had meaningful conversations.”
“The more facetime you can get with the people that are governing for you the better,” Naeger says. “Other representatives from Trek have been to the hill before, so when seeing someone else from Trek, they respond with ‘oh I’m very familiar with your company, thanks for coming back again.’ It helps to have people continuously there pushing the bike agenda.”
Gathering women leaders in high-profile industry roles also helps. “In an industry that is so male-dominated, having women leaders take the time to come together in D.C, really sends a strong message about the changing face of the industry,” says Taldi Walter, government & community affairs manager at REI.
One indirect benefit for attendees? A chance to strengthen connections in the industry. “One of the things that is so amazing about having a female fly-in is that it fosters that greater sense of community that lasts beyond the time that we’re all together in D.C.,” Walter says. “Now I have a group of allies. Now I know 10 more people and they happen to be dynamic female leaders in the industry.” For example, she says, “I never would have met Jennifer [Naeger] because our roles are so different. So being able to meet her and talk about her day-to-day work is is a great way to understand the intricacies of our industry.” Similarly, such conversations gave Grenwis, who is based in Minnesota, a broader sense of the challenges facing the bike industry nationwide. “We’ve been pretty gifted because Minnesota is a very bike-friendly state,” she said. “It’s good to understand the priorities for some of the other areas of the country.”
Attendees also took a tour of REI’s new Washington, D.C., flagship store, explored the city’s bike lane network on Capital Bikeshare, and met with prominent women lobbyists and congressional staff and the senior advisor to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. For Walter, the latter was a chance to get a top-level D.C. audience at a critical time. “I was really excited to be part of a group going in in the first year of the new administration and really make sure that the Department of Transportation knows our priorities as an industry.”
Walter sums up the triple value of the fly-in. “It’s an opportunity to get a deeper understanding and breadth of the issues, to bond with [fellow] women in the industry, and to ensure that as an industry we are speaking with a collective voice.”
PeopleForBikes held three fly-ins in 2017, with a total of 30 attendees and 55 meetings. If you’re interested in attending a 2018 Washington, D.C., fly-in e-mail [email protected].