Connecting People to Jobs Through Transportation

"Transportation Redefined," an ambitious 20-year plan in the St. Louis area, focuses on connecting people to job opportunities through better transportation. City and county governments, working through the region's metropolitan planning organization, are sharing ideas and resources with private organizations as diverse as the Urban League, American Red Cross, and St. Louis Community College, to improve transportation services for area job-seekers and show that transportation planning is a critical part of a coordinated, cross-cutting strategy for economic and community development.

In 1994 the St. Louis region launched a series of strategic activities designed to better align transportation with social and economic goals. The plan formally elevates to the transportation agenda several key issues once outside the purview of transportation planning: access to opportunity for low-income residents, welfare-to-work, and sustainable development.

To understand and address these issues, local and state governments came together through the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council, which is the region's metropolitan planning organization (MPO) and council of governments, to expand the base of public and private sector partners committed to solving complex local problems in a regional context. A number of new partnerships have been formed, as described below.

St. Louis Bridges to Work is a four-year program designed to test the effectiveness of coordinated job placement, transportation, and career advancement services in linking inner city job-seekers with employment opportunities in fast-growing suburban areas. St. Louis is one of five Bridges to Work research and demonstration projects funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in cooperation with Public/Private Ventures. The St. Louis initiative was designed by representatives of both the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County, along with the Urban League and the Missouri Department of Social Services. Job-ready individuals, referred from city and county programs, receive assistance in obtaining employment in the job-rich Chesterfield Valley area of St. Louis County. During the first 18 months of employment, participants can take public transit to a designated station on the MetroLink light rail system and board vans operated by the St. Louis Chapter of the American Red Cross for the rest of their journey to work.

Transportation Corridor for Economic Renewal (TRACER) is a new partnership between the St. Louis region and the State of Missouri that seeks to change the investment climate in the region's urban core. A city/county/state steering committee is considering strategies to re-energize neighborhoods and business districts along the MetroLink light rail corridor, which cuts through the city center and links three major political jurisdictions (St. Louis County, City of St. Louis, and City of East St. Louis). Although rich in jobs (240,000 in 1997), the corridor has suffered concentrated losses of population and employment, as well as environmental problems.

To jump-start the process, the Missouri Departments of Economic Development and Social Services have invested funds in a Center for Mobility to Work to link young adults with jobs in the corridor through short-term work readiness training, job-search assistance, transit subsidies, and extensive post-placement follow-up. St. Louis Community College will implement the project in 1998 under contract with East-West Gateway, with a first-year target of 200 placements. The college has established an alliance with community-based organizations to recruit job-seekers from a targeted city-county area.

Three Principles for Success

St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon, in a May 1997 address at the White House Briefing on Welfare to Work, outlined three principles that have guided St. Louis's approach. The first, he said, is partnership. Building relationships among state and local governments and the private sector has supplied the critical infrastructure needed to get projects under way. Many initiatives have used a "co-investment approach," coordinating investments in innovative ways that test partners' collective ability to achieve better results through more efficient use of resources. The second principle is customer-focused process. This involves identifying all those served by a project, distinguishing their different needs and involving them purposefully in the planning process. The third principle is sustainability. Mayor Harmon said in this sense, sustainability means more than the relationship between the built and natural environment. It is about moving families from a state of uncertainty about the future to a situation where they can rely on opportunities in the region and have the resources in place to take advantage of those opportunities.

The Center for Mobility to Work is part of an eight-year St. Louis Regional Jobs Initiative, one of six similar regional efforts funded in part by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The aim of the initiative is to change how the regional labor market works by forging stronger links among economic development, workforce development, community interests, business, human services, and transportation systems. The initiative, administered by East-West Gateway, is governed by a 13-member Investors' Group chaired by Missouri Treasurer Bob Holden. The chairman of the East-West Gateway Board of Directors represents the region's local governments and two state agencies. The initiative includes three other innovative projects for 1997-1998:

A business services job training and placement program for welfare recipients designed cooperatively by the Missouri Department of Social Services, the Monsanto Corporation, and Adecco Personnel Services. Clerical skills training has been tailored to the needs of Adecco and Monsanto, and graduates of the program will be placed in positions with these firms. Van service is provided to and from the training center.

A Center for Health Careers, which serves the entry-level employment needs of the Sisters of St. Mary Health Care System (SSM). Individuals currently receiving welfare benefits who have an interest in the health care profession will receive counseling and case management service, work readiness and skill training, and child care as they train for a job at one of the four St. Louis area hospitals. A weekly transportation stipend for transit or automobile travel will be provided during and after training.

A cooperative effort with the Carpenters' Union to recruit and prepare young African Americans for construction trades. Individuals are trained and mentored by an African-American journeyman, and placed with contractors through the Joint Area Construction Trades Council. Transportation stipends are provided during training.

"Transportation Redefined" has demonstrated the key role that transportation planning can play in spurring economic opportunities and creating a better St. Louis. As the benefits of these nascent initiatives become more and more obvious, the city and county hope to use the lessons learned to create even more opportunities.

For further information, contact:

Chester Hines, Special Assistant to the Mayor
City of St. Louis

Judith Parker, Director of Human Services
St. Louis County

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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