This fall, Lakeland University brought in a record-breaking number of freshmen students thanks to its new cooperative education program, but along with the good news came some challenges, including increased demand for student transportation.
Under the program, students work for local employers and gain 12 to 18 months of professional work experience prior to graduating while at the same time earning money to pay tuition and minimizing debt. Many students don’t have cars on campus and take advantage of the school’s free shuttle service to get to and from work, says David Gallianetti, Lakeland’s director of external relations.
When the school heard of grants available under Wisconsin’s Commute to Careers program, they seemed like a perfect match. Lakeland received two of 29 grants totaling more than $5.1 million that were distributed statewide through the Department of Workforce Development and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
The DWD gave a $111,000 grant to provide additional 24/7 shuttle service for student employees and interns to get to businesses throughout Sheboygan County. In addition, the DOT provided a $117,000 grant to purchase a minivan, a transit van and a medium bus with a wheelchair lift.
Gallianetti says the grants will help meet the increased demand for transportation from a huge influx of working students. This past summer, the need was so great, faculty members, including the university’s president, volunteered for driving shifts. The school hopes to roll out expanded services in the spring semester, and this will allow the co-op program to continue to flourish.
“We can continue to grow that program as quickly as we want to, knowing that we’ve got the infrastructure in place from a transportation standpoint,” Gallianetti says.
New Hope Center of Chilton, a nonprofit organization whose work includes providing vocational opportunities and specialized transportation services to individuals with disabilities, also saw an increased need for its services.
In the past, the organization provided transportation only to those receiving its coaching services, but now it provides transportation to any client coming out of the state’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation program. That’s created a 300 percent increase in demand for transportation services over the last six months.
New Hope received a grant of $284,650 from the DWD to expand its transportation services for the elderly and disabled populations of Calumet and Manitowoc counties. Greg Logemann, executive director and CEO of New Hope, says the grant will help the organization’s clients as well as employers.
“I’m really excited to get information out to employers,” he says. “As an employer, I know myself that hiring in
a rural area is a huge challenge.”
Logemann says when it comes to employers doing business in rural areas, many applicants can do the job, but struggle to get to and from work. With expanded services, New Hope could offer to transport several individuals from a more populated area such as Manitowoc, Appleton or Fond du Lac.
Jason White, CEO of the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp., says transportation hurdles prove an ever-growing problem in his region. Oshkosh and Northeast Wisconsin must continue to improve their brand to attract people to the region, and part of that includes offering transportation services that match those in larger metro areas, he says.
The GOEDC Foundation received a $30,000 DWD grant to provide 24/7, on-demand employment services to workers throughout Winnebago County. The funds will subsidize fare and mileage costs for those in need.
While GO Transit provides busing services in the community, White says it’s not financially feasible for the provider to offer services in some pockets of the city as well as areas of rural Winnebago County. This service, to be provided through a partnership that includes GOEDC, Winnebago County, Making the Ride Happen, the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and Feonix Mobility, will help fill in the gaps.
“Workforce development is probably our biggest issue related to how quickly we are going to grow the regional economy,” White says. “We believe that this is one step closer to helping us reach our potential as a region.”
New North organizations receiving Commute to Careers grants
• New Hope Center, Chilton — $284,650
• Lakeland University, Plymouth — $228,637
• Curative Connections, Green Bay — $44,100
• Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp. Foundation — $30,051