Five Questions for Donna McAleer of the Bicycle Collective
Economic development takes many forms. The EDCUtah model of growing Utah one company at a time is one way. There is equally important work taking place at the street level, one individual at a time. The Bicycle Collective is an example of this people-centric approach to grow our economy, by giving residents more ability to engage in meaningful work opportunities or career paths.
We caught up with Donna McAleer, executive director of the Bicycle Collective, for her perspective. With an operating budget of about $1 million, the Bicycle Collective serves more than 6,500 people a year.
What are the main functions of the Bicycle Collective?
DM: We are a bike shop that refurbishes bicycles for sale—in essence a thrift shop. We carry a large selection of used bicycles (road, mountain, commuter, etc.) that are overhauled by our mechanics and given a multi-point inspection so they’re ready to ride out the door. We carry used and new parts and accessories to get your bike dialed in perfectly to fit your riding style and personal tastes.
We receive more than 5,000 donated bikes a year, and we sell about 2,000 of them after they are repaired. The revenues we generate from these sales, plus revenues from rented bench time and DIY projects, and our bike valet services for numerous community events such as the Twilight Concert Series and Arts Festival, go a long way to subsidize a range of outreach efforts.
We give away nearly 1,000 bicycles a year to children and more than 500 to adults. Our clients are typically lower-income residents, refugees who have recently moved to Utah, or people getting back on their feet after struggling with substance abuse or other issues. For the adults in particular, a reliable bike takes them on the path to mobility and self-reliance.
In terms of workforce development, how does the Bicycle Collective help deliver talent to companies in search of quality workers?
Many of our clients have no cars. A bike can mean access to a good job. Having mobility means an individual can widen the geographic range when they search for a new job. Moreover, when you load that bike on a TRAX train or local bus, that search range widens.
And don’t discount the impact of the bikes we donate to kids. Giving schoolchildren the means to get to and from school on their own can give families more flexibility in their work arrangements, as well as providing a fun and freeing sense of adventure and exploration.
In the longer term, some of our educational programs are helping to train future workers. Nearly 350 kids participated in our youth programs last year. These kids learn how to use wrenches and screwdrivers fixing drive trains and building a bike from the frame up. They learn there’s a place for everything and everything in its place. They take pride in developing new bike mechanic skills, and they gain confidence. They see the applicability of classes they take in school, such as physics and math, in the design and operation of a bike.
The bicycle is a perfect example of how pure, scientific ideas and principals can be channeled into a practical piece of technology and a mobile device. There is a science to bicycles and that is what makes them so awesome. They get you places quickly without consuming gas, diesel and coal or creating pollution. They convert, efficiently, the power of our bodies producing kinetic energy. And they are a great exercise machine.
In Salt Lake City, we typically have 12 young people graduate from our Junior Bike Mechanic program a year. These kids devote more than 40 hours of training which includes taking a bike apart, repairing and replacing components, building bikes from parts, and taking tests along the way. They know their way around a bike. Local bike shops are happy to employ these young people, because they’ve learned so much here from some very experienced teachers.
You mentioned the Bicycle Collective helps our immigrant and refugee population integrate into Utah’s economy. Where are these people coming from and how do they hear about you?
We are serving people from Eritrea, Mexico, the Congo, Venezuela, Honduras, Somalia, Burma, Burundi, Iraq and Afghanistan…the list goes on. Our clients hear about us because we have partnered with more than 40 other organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, BYU English Language Center, Catholic Community Services, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), USA for UNHCR, Volunteers of America, Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Medical Center and Workforce Services.
A lot of folks know you as the Salt Lake Bicycle Collective, but what is the organization’s actual scope in geographic terms and what are your growth plans?
We started in Salt Lake City in 2002 and have expanded to Ogden, Provo, and, most recently, St. George.
We are in constant discussions with other communities across the state, but that’s what our footprint looks like currently. In the near term, we’re focused on bringing consistency to our processes across all our existing locations and operations.
The Bicycle Collective is actively fundraising to build a new flagship location that will serve as the Salt Lake City Shop, and also as the headquarters for all of our statewide administrative operations. We anticipate commencing construction in 2020. Current estimates for the new facility are $3.5 million. The Ray and Tye Noorda Foundation recently awarded us a $1.3 million grant for construction of the building and capacity building.
The Salt Lake Regional Development Authority (RDA) has worked with the Collective and identified a piece of undeveloped property located at 901 S. Gale Street (350 West). Atlas Architects created the new building design and schematics. The Salt Lake City Council voted to donate that parcel of land to the Collective – a donation valued at $285,000.
What are the Bicycle Collective’s sustainability goals?
We’ve just put in place a process to do a better job of measuring what we’re not putting in the landfill. At the Salt Lake City shop, for example, we are recycling a half-ton of rubber every month, and about a ton of metal, primarily steel and aluminum. That is six tons of rubber going into athletic fields and playgrounds. As for the metals, steel is one of the most widely used metals in large appliances and products. Cars, chairs, shelves and household appliances are just a few of its many uses. It is also often used for construction purposes. You’d be surprised to know that many cans you find in the supermarket are also made of steel.
Bonus question – You’ve been in the executive director job less than a year. What’s been the most pleasant surprise?
It is difficult to name just one, there are so many. It is the daily meaningful impact the Collective has on so many different people. We have an amazing group of volunteers in each shop who keep this place running and who love to share their love and knowledge of bikes. Our shop directors, mechanics, and coordinators are helping the community with their specific bike issues and DIY projects. Moreover, when you see a young child from low-income family just light up with a smile when they get their first bike, it is a special moment.
For more information, please visit www.bicyclecollective.org