Solving the ultimate paradox in NEO

by | Aug 30, 2021

Nicole Crews thinks a lot about transportation.

As senior manager of organization and talent development at Great Lakes Cheese in Hiram, she’s been tasked with supporting the recruitment of more than 180 new employees (about 20% of its Hiram-based workforce) by mid-November.

In particular, the food manufacturer needs workers to fill second and third shifts. With positions starting at $20 an hour and the opportunity for additional financial rewards through the company’s Employee Stock Ownership Plan, Crews doesn’t see wages as the primary barrier. “People can’t always get here, and we want to make sure people know we’re here,” she says.

Located in a rural area about 27 miles southeast of Cleveland, Great Lakes Cheese is a storied 63-year-old company with deep roots in the community. It is also inaccessible by public transit. The company, which supplies a quarter of all the packaged cheese consumed in the U.S., is experiencing significant growth.

Crews has the support of company executives to innovate in order to attract and retain employees—from leadership discussions on childcare offerings (a third of Great Lakes’ employees are women) to supportive programming for lower-income employees.

Top on her list, though, is implementing a transportation solution to help people get to the Hiram campus as well as support broader sustainability efforts.

And she’s not alone in her thinking. Employers throughout Northeast Ohio are starting to see transportation as a barrier to talent and are asking what they can do to reduce it. In a matter of months in Lake County, for example, more than 100 employers located primarily along the industrial corridor of Tyler Boulevard signed on to Laketran’s Transit GO program, which enables them to offer free bus passes or dial-a-ride service to employees. That’s just one example of a differentiator that can be adopted in this tight labor market.

“A successful recruiting strategy starts with acknowledging that you won’t solve your current hiring challenges by applying the solutions of the past,” write Tino Sanandaji, Ferdinando Monte, Alexandra Ham, and Atta Tarki in a recent piece for the Harvard Business Review. Their top suggestion? “Make it easier for employees who commute,” they write. “For hourly workers and lower-salaried positions, location is one of the biggest — and often underestimated — drivers of effective recruiting.”

Historical development patterns in Northeast Ohio, i.e., decades of no-growth sprawl, have made it difficult for people, especially those who don’t have a car, to find and retain employment (in addition to accessing other necessities). Less than a third of all jobs in Northeast Ohio can be accessed by public transit in 90 minutes or less. Meanwhile, a quarter of all Cleveland households do not have a car. In East Cleveland, about 40% of all households do not have a vehicle. Even in smaller urban and more rural areas of Northeast Ohio, car access is a challenge: in Canton, 18% of households don’t have a vehicle; 11% in Wooster.  The result? Too many Northeast Ohioans (disproportionately Black residents and those living in areas of economic distress) are caught in an intractable scenario: no car, no job; no job, no car.

Residents shouldn’t have to decide between an expensive, car-based commute, a commute in a 64-passenger bus that can take upwards of 90-minutes one-way, or a smaller set of employment options closer to home that may not pay as well or put them on the path to career advancement. For a greater number of residents to access good jobs, a greater number of mobility options must exist.

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