Workforce and Transit Oriented Development in the Twin Cities: An Interview with Jonathan Sage-Martinson, Director, Central Corridor Funders Collaborative

Posted by Helen Leung on
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Through our work with the Corridors of Opportunity Initiative and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, Living Cities is supporting efforts in the Twin Cities to leverage the creation of new light rail lines as part of a larger transit-oriented development (TOD) strategy in the region to connect people to housing, transit, education, and employment opportunities. The development of new infrastructure often means new jobs, particularly construction jobs. In the Twin Cities, the Central Corrididor, which will connect Minneapolis to St. Paul has already created more than 4,000 construction jobs. The region has provided detailed information about accessing such jobs through LRT Works, an online resource providing information on employment, careers in construction and other information related to the light rail construction project.

Despite theit importance, construction jobs are not the only benefit the new lines can bring. Traditionally, TOD strategies emphasize place-based solutions that overlook the needs of low-income people beyond the labor needed for construction. At Living Cities, we believe that equitable transit-oriented development strategies-a people-based approach to addressing the needs of residents beyond infrastructure-can provide increased economic opportunity for low-income individuals. The work underway in the Twin Cities by the Funders Collaborative to develop the region's workforce beyond construction is at the forefront of equitable TOD efforts.

The Funders Collaborative is a group of local and national funders working together to strengthen the regional economyby increasing opportunities for local residents and businesses. Two efforts led by working groups supported by the collaborative are particularly innovative: First, the Business Resources Collaborative is a unique partnership of organizations-chambers of commerce, business associations, government, and non-profits-that represent the businesses along the 11-mile corridor. Their vision focuses on helping existing businesses adapt to the changing market both during and after construction.

Second, Jobs Central is an effort that brings economic development and workforce development professionals together to think about the jobs of the future. The goal of this project is to connect and prepare people living along the Central Corridor to available jobs.

In order to learn more about this work, we interviewed Jonathan Sage-Martinson, Director of the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.

What do you consider the largest success of the LRT Works project as it relates to construction jobs?

Jonathan: There are several advantages of using the LRT Works database.
It's partly to simply know what the market place is for women and minorities
who are experienced construction personnel in a variety of disciplines. The Metropolitan Council and State Department of Human Rights can use this knowledge to set future goals by knowing construction specialties within the regional workforce.

LRT Works is also a matchmaking platform. Contractors looking to hire people with a specific set of skills to help meet their women and minority workforce goals can use this database to make direct connections, and there have been direct hires by contractors as a result of LRT Works. Another advantage is that enforcement agencies are able to monitor the good faith efforts put in by the contractor because it's visible as contractors search the database.

This makes work easier for the contractor and creates one point of entry for construction workers looking for work. this level of transparency has created much higher workforce utilization than in previous federally funded projects in the Twin Cities.

How has the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative supported the transformation of workforce development in the Twin Cities?

Jonathan: The main thrust of the work of the Funders Collaborative around workforce beyond construction has been around the goal of aligning economic development systems with the workforce systems in the geography surrounding the Central Corridor. Our goal is to maximize access to good-paying jobs for corridor residents by aligning these systems to the greatest extent possible.

Beyond construction jobs, how is the work of The Business Resources Collaborative and Jobs Central different than what has been done in the past?

Jonathan: The Business Resources Collaborative is trying to really maximize the number of businesses that stay on the corridor as the line is being built. With construction winding down and wrapping up in 2014, our goal is to have businesses thrive afterwards and employ more people. We are now able to think long term on job creation and economic development potential in the corridor.

The Jobs Central project is working to make sure that residents are lined up and trained to take advantage of those jobs. In a geography like this, this has not been done before.

What has the role of the private and public sector been in this work?

Jonathan: The Business Resources Collaborative is really a combination of both sectors working together. The public sector is maximizing what it can with public investments, public resources, and public systems to make it easier for businesses to locate along the corridor. Private sector partners reach out to their peers, and provide innovative financing that isn't available through public resources. The private sector is also helping to identify growing industries that are best suited to be located along the corridor.

For Jobs Central, most of the early planning work has been done on the public sector side, including analysis of growing job categories and land use planning for business growth. On the workforce side, an assessment of who is currently using the system has been completed. The private sector comes into play by interviewing targeted businesses within these targeted industries to understand what employment needs are and the extent of private training programs available. Training opportunities range from public and non-profit to private programs.

What opportunities have emerged from marrying workforce development with business development?

Jonathan: The primary opportunity is in the workforce system. If we know from the economic development side which businesses are growing, then the workforce system can react to the growing demand and align its partners to really deliver the people trained for those jobs. Our goal is to align workforce around economic development plans.

For example, the Jobs Central program has aligned around three specific growing industries adjacent to the Central Corridor that have entry level positions and career pathways. These industries are: logistics, and trucking, health care, and manufacturing. We are getting ready to launch a career connector program that will train and provide seven community members who will help connect their neighbors in four targeted neighborhoods to training programs specifically targeted at those three industries.

What have been the biggest barriers to aligning workforce and business development and how have you been working to overcome them?

Jonathan: There are two big barriers. One is the different incentives of the economic development and workforce development systems. Workforce funding is often derived from county and federal sources and set up to train large classes of people towards work at high turnover or high growth businesses. The economic development system tends to be much more local and focused on smaller sized comapnies. As a result, the workers looking for jobs may not have the resources they need. In addition, having a sector focus doesn't always align well with the needs of the workforce. I think what has been helpful in this process is the data that we've used to demonstrate the growing number of entry-level jobs with good career pathways in the corridor.

The second barrier to aligning workforce and economic development is that there is no common language spoken between the two systems. Economic development sees its customer as the business, while workforce has often viewed its customer as the potential employee. It has taken some time in the Central corridor for the two systems to understand the different languages and programming implications. After some time, it is easier to build common understanding and create a program that intertwines both.

What are the top approaches that have really leveraged this work?

Jonathan: First, get economic development and workforce professionals in the sane room. If possible, include the folks who provide funding for both systems. Two, let your work be directed by data. Understand where job growth is, what economic development plans are, and who makes up your workforce. Use that data to really drive your focus. Lastly, experiment. A pilot program is a great way to start.


When developing a TOD strategy, it is easy to believe that creating opportunity requires a place-based approach, especially when your desired outcome include the creation of a certain number of new housing units or jobs. Through utilizing a people-based approach, the work in the Twin Cities demonstrates that infrastructure investments can be leveraged into economic opportunity for local residents and businesses. For more information on equitable TOD, you can access our toolkit here.