The $1.5 billion bonding bill passed during the 2018 legislative session did not include funding for transit. This is bad for business and for the entire state. Times are changing, and Minnesota needs to conform to those changes or we are going to lose out.
While our state celebrates its educated population, low unemployment, and an abundance of natural resources, including more than 10,000 lakes for weekend trips to the cabin, we are not paying enough attention to the state's below average economic growth.
Between 2016 and 2017, Minnesota saw a 1.9 percent economic expansion, lower than the national average of 2.1 percent. One factor that can be attributed to this is slow population growth. In 2017, half of Minnesota's counties saw residents leave. That's concerning for the future of Minnesota business, as our workforce shortage continues to grow.
Improving and expanding our transit system is paramount to attracting and retaining new talent, as well as supporting our current economy.
As the population ages and Baby Boomers leave the workforce, many in rural areas such as Alexandria are becoming increasingly transit dependent.
On the other end of the age spectrum, Millennials, the largest generation currently in the workforce, do not want to be tied down with the burden and expense of vehicle ownership. In turn, many are pulled toward metro areas where they can live without a vehicle and instead reply on other forms of transit. Vehicle ownership also adds to environmental concerns typically shared by this generation.
Transit is not just a metro issue - it's a statewide problem. Rural areas are strongly impacted by the lack of a comprehensive transportation system. While metro areas need to be strategic about investments in public transit systems to meet the needs of this generation, rural Minnesota also must be creative in finding solutions to attract Millennials and their preferences.
Alexandria has a concerning lack of transit options. Rainbow Rider exists but has funding and service issues. Options such as Lyft and Uber are not readily available and taxi services are severely lacking.
Alexandria is a center of economic activity for west central Minnesota. If we want that to continue, we must invest in better transit options that will give everyone greater access to opportunity. Transit options would give our neighbors the ability to easily travel for chores, shopping, continued education and more. It would also allow some of our older neighbors the opportunity to age in place with dignity, making it easier for them to go to medical appointments or get groceries.
Additional and improved transit options will reinvigorate the state's business climate. Minnesota has more than 70 facilities that are part of the transit supply chain. Whether supplying parts, remanufacturing existing products, or manufacturing and assembling mass transit vehicles, an investment of $1 billion in public transit creates and supports over 50,000 jobs.
If we want to remain competitive, we must make serious improvements to our current public transit system. Change starts with our legislators realizing the importance and value of our transit system.
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Tara Bitzan is executive director of the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.