An urgent need in the East Metro: better transit
ARTICLE BY MATT KRAMER AND LISA WEIK via PIONEER PRESS
The education nonprofit company ECMC announced last week that it is moving 500 jobs from Oakdale to downtown Minneapolis to “attract and retain workers.”
In an interview with the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, the company’s CEO said, “Obviously Minneapolis is a far larger labor market.”
Let’s think about what that means.
Does downtown Minneapolis have a “larger labor market” because Hennepin County has more people? No. Combined, the East Metro counties of Dakota, Ramsey and Washington have the same number of residents as Hennepin County: 1.1 million. Both regions are served by ample highway networks.
There’s one major difference: Downtown Minneapolis has a larger labor market because it’s better served by transit.
Leaders here in the Twin Cities and around the country have been stressing the need for transit to connect people to employers. The co-chairs of the Itasca Project Transportation Task Force said in 2012, “Employers in Minneapolis, St. Paul and our suburbs are telling us with increased urgency that transit is a necessary component for their future growth.”
Last week, the Washington Post reported that Marriott International plans to move its transit-inaccessible international headquarters, with 2,000 jobs, to a new location on transit. Other suburban employers are also blunt about their needs. “You’ve got to think mass transit,” said the CEO of Choice Hotels. “I can’t compete unless they can get to us without driving.”
The East Metro has responded to this need by studying options for new transitways in the Gateway, Rush Line, Red Rock, Riverview and Robert Street corridors. The furthest along is Gateway; its communities have all endorsed the Gold Line, which would bring high-quality all-day transit to employers along I-94 between St. Paul and Woodbury.
To continue to respond to the urgent need for quality transit, what else should we do? The Legislature is hearing bills to fund next steps for East Metro transit, including planning the Gold Line and Red Rock specifically. The Legislature should pass those bipartisan bills authored by Rep. Kelly Fenton, Sen. Karin Housley, Rep. JoAnn Ward and Sen. Susan Kent.
And the Legislature should make sure that when design of East Metro lines is done, a funding source is in place to build them.
It’s important to understand that East Metro transitways like the Gold Line are not only about connecting people to jobs in St. Paul. East Metro transitways are also about serving people and employers throughout the East Metro.
As Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough puts it, “the health of St. Paul depends on the health of surrounding communities.” A large employer shouldn’t have to move to downtown Minneapolis or downtown St. Paul for quality transit. If they do, we will have a weaker East Metro and a weaker region, even if we don’t lose a single job in the process.
The good news is that the corridors in which East Metro transitways would run have jobs and residents now, and room for many more. The East Metro transitway study areas contain 600,000 residents and 11,000 employers. That’s 54 percent of the residents and 62 percent of the jobs in just 17 percent of the East Metro’s land area. That’s a large labor market, ready to be connected with transit.
If we connect those people and jobs with transit, we will prosper. And if we do not, people and employers will move away — to places with more and better transportation options. And those places may not always be here in Minnesota.
Matt Kramer is president and CEO of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. Lisa Weik is a Washington County Commissioner and chair of the Gateway Corridor Commission. Together they co-chair East Metro Strong, a public-private partnership of businesses, cities and counties working together to bring balanced transit investment to the East Metro and catalyze job growth and economic development opportunities.