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BIDs as Partners in Community Wellness

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Mary Hoehne
April 21, 2015

Business improvement districts (BIDs) have the capacity to be much more than organizations that provide secure, maintained, beautiful downtown shopping and tourist districts. Many BIDs are located in the heart of thriving small and medium size business and industrial districts and the BID staff members are the only people who have a pulse of all the businesses. The BID can help keep the pulse strong by promoting wellness within their community and partnering with the city and others to strive for Well City USA designation. Globally, the network of BIDs exceeds more than 2200. Their impact on global wellness can be impressive if wellness becomes an objective.

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Too often, when cities and organizations are working toward creating wellness programs the creators of the programs think in a silo. They do not look to business organizations to lead the efforts. BID managers reach out daily to their constituents, host many events, converse in member only websites and work continually to create community among their members. Many of the businesses are limited in resources and are seeking collaborations that do not require transportation costs in both time and money. The BIDs can bring wellness programs to the business community; thus reducing overall costs and increasing the number of participants.

The city of Milwaukee, the Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC), the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee and the Wellness Council of Wisconsin began the wellness movement five years ago. Collectively, they encouraged businesses to adopt best practice workplace wellness programming as a key business strategy in order to:

  • Enhance the health and well-being of the workforce
  • Manage health care expenditures
  • Raise community awareness of the importance of healthy lifestyles.

Today, 60 employers are participating. The wellness program measures seven key benchmarks of success. These benchmarks have been identified by the City of Milwaukee as inherent in companies that have built results-oriented workplace wellness programs. They are:

  • Engaging senior level management.
  • Empowering a wellness team.
  • Analyzing data.
  • Maintaining a wellness operating plan.
  • Designing interventions based on data.
  • Creating an environment that is supportive.
  • Evaluating outcomes.

The city of Milwaukee is the only city in the U.S. to win Well City USA status for a second time. If the city reached out to its extensive network of 40-plus BIDs, it could obtain this status annually. BID directors can promote, inspire, organize and host wellness programs for all the employees working within the boundaries of their BID districts. The roster of companies participating in Milwaukee’s wellness programs includes most of the large employers, but also a few small and medium sized employers. Most of the small and medium sized employers do not have the resources to organize and implement a successful program.

Business improvement districts could be the catalyst to connect the necessary resources and assist in creating BID-wide programs that allow for more participation at various times and locations. By combining resources there could be variety in programming to increase participation and commitment. According to Person, Colby and Eubanks in their 2010 study “Barriers to Participation in a Worksite Wellness Program,” employees decide to participate or discontinue participation in a wellness program because of insufficient incentives, inconvenient locations and time limitations. By combining resources and hosting various programming for all shift employees, wellness programs can have a higher participation and success rate and result in healthier communities. The key to success is to extend the network and look for the partners who are truly working in the community. The BIDs are the correct partners to grow wellness programs in your community.  

Author: Mary Hoehne is the executive director of the Granville Business Improvement District in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Granville BID includes more than 375 properties and is an assortment of more manufacturers, large auto dealers, retail stores, some urban blight, a solid middle class and a huge area of subsidized housing. Ms. Hoehne is also working on her Ph. D. in public administration from Walden University. Her research topic addresses the role of BIDs. Ms. Hoehne can be reached at [email protected].

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