How can we be better? How can we compete? Each of our members asks this about their own business or institution. At the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and East Metro Strong, we ask those questions about Saint Paul, our region, and the state overall.
Nine groups who care deeply about the region and the state agreed four years ago to a common set of measurements of regional competitiveness and health: the “Regional Indicators Dashboard.” (The nine are GreaterMSP, the Itasca Project, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, Minnesota Business Partnership, the McKnight Foundation, the Metropolitan Council, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Regional Council of Mayors, and Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. The Dashboard is here.)
This year’s Dashboard was released last Friday, and the region again fell in a key measure of competitiveness: can people get to work by transit? Last year, we were 6th of 12 peers; this year, 7th of 12. Both years we also got worse not just relative to our peers, but relative to ourselves from the year before. That is, we’re weren’t just passed by Denver because it opened a new light rail line; we actually got worse in absolute terms as we made it harder to get to our own jobs by transit.
Getting worse twice in two years is not a sustainable route to competitiveness.
Last year, after we fell from 5th to 6th, we made this argument in the Pioneer Press: “Others are outpacing the Twin Cities in connecting people to jobs.” In response, many regional business groups were delighted when the governor proposed investing $50 million to build new high-quality bus lines serving jobs and workers. The SPACC blog described how well aBRT works in “The A Line works! Let’s Build More”. And we worked with our partners at the Minneapolis Regional Chamber to set up BetterBusesMSP.com to help you advocate for these new lines.
Fast forward to today. Both the House and the Senate have proposed bonding bills. Neither one calls for or supports investments in aBRT. But the fight isn’t over, as final decisions are being negotiated between the House, the Senate, and the Governor.
Meanwhile, our competitors across the country continue to invest in better transit for their employers and employees. Do nothing, and we will continue to fall in the rankings. Good workers will continue to leave, or not move here in the first place.
There’s a lot going on in the final few days of the legislative session. The impending decisions regarding the inclusion of aBRT in the final bonding bill will have repercussions far beyond this year.
The new arterial Bus Rapid Transit (aBRT) lines can be built quickly, and we know they work.
Let your legislators know that you want Better Buses – for your business, and for the workers you need to hire.