Many who live in Flint say it is coming back, roaring into a new lease on life. Finding solid employment is vital to restoring the economy. The local Mass Transportation Authority (MTA) is a beam of light, shining the way to a better tomorrow for residents who travel to other counties to remain employed.
“It’s important to us that we identify and address the changing needs in our community today,” Ed Benning, CEO of MTA Flint, states. “The opportunity is to provide access to these jobs and regional transportation in neighboring communities. We started this back in 1997, and have grown every year since.”
In fact, the Flint hub of MTA provides transportation to six counties, including Livingston and Oakland, and provides direct access to jobs in counties that have very low unemployment but a high demand for workers. These commuters live in Genesee County and take income back to spend here.
According to Benning, the Flint MTA has been noticed on the national level as being innovators in this business.
Benning states, “I have attended meetings in Livingston County and met with a number of employers that were talking of moving out of the state if they couldn’t hire enough workers, so we agreed to transport workers from our county. We received half a million dollars to purchase used buses to expand regional services and we are seeking funds to purchase 10 more new buses. Our new buses are very clean, provide a nice ride and run on NG [natural gas].”
More now than ever, employers are looking to MTA Flint to meet their labor needs. Benning comments that in Lapeer County 30 businesses are interested in regional commuter services. Business and community leaders in Livingston County report the MTA system helps pair people looking for employment with jobs, full and part-time, that need to be filled.
And the shuttle to and from the job is affordable for many. “Some employers will provide the cost of the monthly pass to ride the bus and others don’t. Everyone is different but it makes it affordable and can be a way to attract employees,” Benning says.
The expanding business, which now runs west to Lansing, east to Lapeer, to Saginaw in the north and to Troy in the south, always seeks funding to sustain service, provide transportation options and add to the fleet of buses.
Benning says, “We look for help for grant funding from state, federal, businesses and philanthropic sources. I travel to Washington, looking for money to sustain services and add needed equipment. Our legislators and funding partners are aware of the Flint MTA’s aggressive approach to meeting needs, and they recognize the business approach we utilize, often viewed as very unique.”
“Our legislators and funding partners are aware of the Flint MTA’s aggressive approach to meeting needs.” —Ed Benning
Others from several areas struggling to find workers for mostly low-income jobs are watching the program.
Benning points out, “This is done around the country, but we have one of the strongest programs of this kind and are nationally recognized. Through a process of bringing stakeholders together and discussing transportation that would address as many as 800 open jobs, we expanded services in Livingston County. This effort addressed 600 of those positions at the onset. Today there is a need for an additional 600 employees and we’re working to find ways to further expand.”
The future looks bright and people are willing to commute to their workplace using this new service.
“In the future, we envision transportation hubs in Lapeer, Saginaw, Lansing and along U.S. 23 near the M-59 corridor. This will allow us to provide excellent service into the hub located near the freeway, and shuttle services will be performed by the local transit systems so they can move workers to and from the job sites,” Benning says. “This will probably happen within the next several years. With the presence of I-69, U.S. 23 and I-75, we could have a great transportation hub here where people could work easily in Genesee County and the surrounding six counties.”
The workers, jobs and momentum are all in place for this service to leapfrog to many opportunities for Genesee County. Regional commuter services also allow employers in Genesee County to bring in talent from neighboring communities for hard-to-fill positions.
The MTA provides over 1 million work-related trips within Genesee County for area employees per year. The MTA stands prepared to work with all businesses in the community to make sure transportation to work is never a barrier to employment.