Connecting workers and jobs
Elected officials, groups cite need for more transportation

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

March 24, 2015

Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, left, shows her bus pass to Milwaukee County Supervisors Jason Haas, second from left, Theo Lipscomb Sr. and Patricia Jursik while waiting on a Route 80 bus at Milwaukee Area Technical College’s campus in Oak Creek that is part of expanded bus routes in Milwaukee County.
Katherine Michalets/Freeman Staff

OAK CREEK - Waiting for the route 80 bus to arrive outside Milwaukee Area Technical College’s Oak Creek campus Monday morning, Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic was in high spirits as she and three other county supervisors celebrated a board-approved expansion of bus service.

She said when would-be developers look at purchasing a potential site, one of the first questions they ask is if it’s near public transportation.

In an effort to better connect workers and jobs, the Milwaukee County Board voted to add and expand bus lines to Oak Creek and Brown Deer. On Monday the co-sponsors of the successful 2015 budget initiative, County Supervisors Theo Lipscomb Sr. and Patricia Jursik, rode on the route 80 bus with Dimitrijevic and County Supervisor John Haas.

Jursik said the expanded bus routes, which started Sunday, will help connect the workforce to job opportunities.

“Residents often work across county lines,” Jursik said. “We are expanding the transit to do the same thing people do.”

Once the expanded route 80 was announced, Jursik said, Froedtert Medical Center made plans to build a new location along the route.

Access to public transportation is more than a metro-Milwaukee or regional issue - it is a national issue, said Kerry Thomas, executive director of MetroGo!, a nonprofit organization with the goal of engaging and inspiring people to create a regional transit network across a six-county metro Milwaukee area to fuel the economy and workforce growth. The group will be holding a forum on the topic in Brookfield on Wednesday.

“We can start to think about this now. Transportation doesn’t happen overnight,” Thomas said.

According to MetroGo!, the number of jobs is projected to exceed the working age population (ages 20 to 64) by 2020; however, transit service has been reduced 22 percent in the region since 2001.

“Filling positions can be difficult. Good transit would give us a bigger candidate pool and the wider skill set we need to fill jobs and support expansion,” said Denise Huebner, human resources manager at Terex Utilities, Inc. in the City of Pewaukee, in a statement.

Filling quantity gap

MetroGo! reports that three of the four bus routes connecting Milwaukee County workers to employers in suburban counties were started in the past year, and are supported with temporary funding sources that will require replacement by 2018.

“We are moving beyond the skills gap. Now it’s more of a quantity gap, and it cuts across all skill levels," said Dennis Winters, chief economist at the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, in a statement.

Thomas said the lack of transportation to connect workers and jobs could result in a significant negative economic impact nationally.

She said there could be “big challenges coming up, especially for suburban businesses.”

“I think it’s becoming an issue that is more about employers and how they are going to get employees,” Thomas said.

Jursik said it’s a matter of elected officials being responsive to the citizens, whether they are seniors needing to get to a doctor’s appointment by bus or a worker needing to get to a job.

The Milwaukee County Board has also voted to fund a new route, 276, the Brown Deer Shuttle.

“This new route will help residents of Brown Deer access the larger, county-wide system. Transit is one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly ways to get people around the county. We must continue to expand routes and improve service to ensure everyone in Milwaukee County has access to adequate transportation,” Lipscomb said in a statement.