Government & Politics

Johnson County has good jobs. KC has people who need them. Is this a solution?

Kansas City’s metro area has a jobs conundrum.

South Johnson County has openings but not enough candidates. The urban core has job seekers but not enough employers.

Finally, there may be a solution, coming as early as April.

Better bus service could soon be available to get workers to Johnson County employment hubs.

The Johnson County Commission is expected to consider a proposal Feb. 15 to provide $300,000 in available funds for new RideKC service from downtown Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan., to southern Johnson County along Interstate 35.

It would connect people who need access to decent jobs with employers scrambling to hire more workers at the New Century Air Center in Olathe and the Logistics Park Intermodal facility in Edergeton. Routes would be timed to meet most jobs shifts, including on Saturdays.

“This service plan is the first time we in this region have designed a transit route around getting people to suburban job centers,” said Dick Jarrold, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s vice president of regional planning and development.

Jarrold said this has been on the bus system’s radar for a number of years, but until recently, employers weren’t interested. Now, as the competition for employees has become intense, he said more companies have been asking the KCATA for help.

The need has reached a tipping point, says Jim Roy, senior regional vice president with Quality Placement Services, an employee recruitment company that works with Johnson County firms hungry for workers.

“The available candidate pool has dropped significantly in the past two years,” Roy said.

Amazon, Jet, Kubota Tractor Distribution and other distribution firms have hired more than 4,000 people in the past 11 months in the Logistics Park, and still have openings, Roy said. Many of these warehouse and industrial jobs pay $13.50 or more per hour, better than the average hotel or fast food job, he said.

“So we have to figure out a better way to go where the unemployment rates are higher, such as Kansas City, Wyandotte County and Jackson County, and move the talent to where the jobs are being created,” he said.

Roy said transit options are attractive because people don’t have to worry about gas, insurance and vehicle maintenance.

Roy worked with the KCATA to create a pool of vans carrying about 30 employees per day straight to employers’ doors. He said it has worked well, but buses will carry more. The goal is to get to 220 daily riders the first year and more than 300 by the third year.

Abraham Hoff, of Gladstone, rides a van daily to his telecommunications warehouse job with SPC Telequip in Shawnee.

He said the transport, which costs him $5 per day, has been invaluable because he and his girlfriend share one car, and she needs it to get to her job with Bank Liberty.

“It’s a blessing,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t have been able to get to Shawnee without affordable transportation.

“I feel the buses would be very beneficial,” Hoff said of the southern Johnson County proposal. “There are a lot of people that want to work but they don’t have transportation. I have a lot of friends and family that don’t have jobs.”

Johnson County Commission members were generally receptive at a Feb. 1 briefing, but said they want assurances employers will help promote the program, with employee bus passes and other incentives to make sure the service prevails.

Commissioner Michael Ashcraft said companies should include transit information when they recruit employees. He said right now, this burden is on taxpayers, but the employers must help make sure it works.

Commissioner Steve Klika said he thought the routes would need more mid-day service to thrive. He also said the KCATA must do a decent marketing job to raise public awareness.

“I want to see this thing get kicked off and be successful,” he said.

Jarrold said frequent mid-day service isn’t part of the initial rollout but could come later.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley