Poverty and Public Transportation: The United Way's new fix for Fargo families in need
"I love my employees. It's great to get to meet people from different ethnicities and different countries," says Kelsey Kasten, the Employee Services Administrator at Cardinal IG. "I grew up in a small town, so coming here and learning about different people and where they're from – it thrills me."
Kasten says her coworkers make working at Cardinal feel like a family - and it's one she wants to help grow.
"We are hiring, yup. We have a couple positions on the line, as well as some in maintenance," she says.
Cardinal IG is off of 45th Street, like other businesses that are part of Fargo's industrial park. The area is home to more than 40 employers and it supports more than 19,000 jobs – but not all of them have been easy to fill.
"We use staffing agencies to help us get candidates. And then those candidates aren't always able to get here," Kasten says. "Whether it's that they don't drive or they don't have their driver's license or they don't have a car."
"There has not been reliable public transportation into the industrial park since the 1990s," says Thomas Hill, the Vice President of the United Way of Cass-Clay's Community Impact program.
But now, there's a new plan to connect local families with the open jobs at the industrial park. The United Way, MATBUS, and the City of Fargo are moving forward with a pilot program to give residents easier access to the business community. Program developers say it's a little like Uber for the industrial park's employees.
"We know that one in nine individuals in our community struggles with poverty," says Hill. "We know also in the industrial park, there's over 19,000 jobs that are either currently filled or waiting to be filled."
"We've been meeting with city officials, MATBUS officials, community partners, businesses, really since last September – trying to understand what are the opportunities that we have in front of us and what are potential solutions," he continues. "This is an innovative solution. It's cost effective, and it's a way to really expand new lines of services where they didn't currently exist before."
"You can take a bus from your house or the nearest bus stop to your house to the tap ride location, get on tap ride within a matter of minutes, and go to work," Hill says. "It's on-demand. So riders have the opportunity to say, 'This is when I need a ride.' They can get picked up right at their business when they're leaving work, and it connects them to existing public transportation routes."
All users have to do is take out their phone, open the app, and order a ride. And no matter what time of day it is, a bus will come, pick them up, and take them to the industrial park. And if employees don't have a phone - there will be tap ride kiosks at West Acres and the bus stop by the Whale of a Wash on 12th Avenue North.
The program starts this August. Fares are a $1.50 per ride or $40.00 for a 30-day pass.
The United Way says the $95,000 program benefits the entire community - whether you ride the bus or not.
"When individuals who don't have reliable public transportation now have that opportunity, businesses can increase productivity. They can make more money, they can contribute more to our community," says Hill. "When parents can go to work and provide for their families, it helps their kids grow, be stable, supported, secure."
For businesses like Cardinal, the new program is an opportunity to grow their work force and their work families.
"It's also a great opportunity for Cardinal to tap that pool that we haven't been able to yet – with potential employees who can't get to work. This is a great way for them to get here, find us, and get a job," Kasten says. "By them having a bus route, employees don't have to walk the two or three miles it takes them to get to the bus stop – especially with our North Dakota winters."
"We are a family here. We come to work and we all enjoy working together," she adds.