Transportation solutions are needed to lure prospective employees to outlying communities like DeForest for work.
Michelle Lawrie, the village’s community development director, is working on the problem.
“In getting to know employers in DeForest, from those in the industrial park to even retail, there are two things they find challenging: finding people to hire and transportation for employees that don’t live in DeForest,” said Lawrie. “It is a barrier if they can’t get out here.”
The 2019 DreamUp Wisconsin Challenge could provide DeForest grant funding to overcome the problem. The initiative seeks entrepreneurial and policy idea to help 10,000 Dane County households increase their income by 10 percent by 2022.
DeForest is one of the communities in Dane County planning to submit a proposal by Oct. 2 to win funds for its program.
“It’s crunch time,” said Lawrie. “We find out in January if we advance to the next round.”
Only five of all the proposals turned in will be picked to advance and win $20,000. Then, in January, the five teams will pitch their ideas, and three will be chosen to advance further and receive another $20,000.
Those three will go to the semifinals in March to again promote their plans. At least one team will move on and be awarded another $20.000. The top teams will present their pitches to Schmidt Futures in June to receive catalytic funding. Lawrie said the final winner could conceivably get $1 million.
DreamUp Wisconsin stems from the University of Wisconsin’s Alliance for the American Dream Initiative, a collaboration between the UW Institute for Research on Poverty and Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic program that looks to improve society through the development of emerging science and technologies.
Lawrie said the village has been supportive and helpful in this endeavor. Union Cab and the YWCA are among those entities she’s working with to come up with solutions to the transportation issue.
Lawrie explains that while there are a lot of jobs in places outside Madison like DeForest, many possible candidates live in the urban core of the city. For some local employers who require their workers to have a car, it’s not a problem. Or, is it?
Lawrie said what they don’t know is whether such employees are taking a car away from someone else, a spouse or a young adult, in a household to go to work in DeForest.
Looking at the bigger picture, transportation isn’t the only issue. Housing is another. Lawrie said the local housing authority is conducting a housing study.
“We’re looking forward to getting that data,” said Lawrie.
Both are big factors in solving workforce shortages. With the recent news of DeForest being the fastest growing municipality in Dane County, it’s clear people want to live here, said Lawrie. Businesses looking to grow in the community are finding that transportation can be a barrier to finding good workers from outside the village.
“This is really the beginning,” said Lawrie. “We have to think more broadly about these issues, but it’s a good start.”
There is cooperation among the municipalities surrounding Madison on this topic.
What Lawrie and others want to do is come up with a template that can lead to a pilot transportation program. If it works, it could spread to other communities.
Lawrie said the YWCA already does some van pooling, driving workers to places like Waunakee and Oregon. If YWCA can show strong ridership, it could generate more funding for its program.
Lawrie said Union Cab has a grant through “Commute to Careers” to provide transportation for workers. She also said that there is a willingness among local businesses to come up with some kind of transportation program to bring workers to DeForest that would be free for them.
It could benefit the community as a whole.
“We want to encourage growth in DeForest for businesses and residential,” said Lawrie. “People are interested in living in DeForest, and another thing about growing rooftops is it can get more amenities for those who live here. It all works together.”