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Need workers? Shuttle plan could be the ticket

Officials fund a plan to transport low-income workers to jobs in Oldsmar. Now they need businesses willing to hire the workers.

Local, regional and state agencies spent months putting together a bold plan to shuttle workers from low-income neighborhoods to Oldsmar area businesses.

The hard work paid off when a $2-million state grant was awarded earlier this year to fund the program.

Now that everything is in place, it's time for the businesses to step up to the plate.

"We have done everything that we could to get to this point and now we need the employers to come and take us up on the offer," said Kevin Gartland, executive director of the Greater Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce. "The program is a one-of-a-kind thing. There isn't anything like this happening anywhere else that we are aware of."

The chamber, along with the Metropolitan Planning Organization and other local and regional agencies, was scheduled to meet Thursday to explain the plan and what businesses can do to take part in the program. Representatives of companies in the Oldsmar area that are having difficulty hiring workers in the $7 to $8 pay range were invited to attend the meeting, Gartland said.

Plans call for express bus routes to carry workers from low-income areas in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties directly to jobs in Oldsmar, starting in August. Organizers hope the routes will get more than 500 riders a year, said David McDonald, Pinellas County program planner.

So far, three routes are planned in Pinellas, three in Hillsborough and one in Pasco. In Pinellas, the routes will link workers from south St. Petersburg, the Greenwood area in Clearwater and Tarpon Springs to jobs in the Oldsmar area.

The $2-million grant can fund the project for about two years. Ways to pay for the project even longer are already being explored, McDonald said.

Although anyone can take advantage of the express bus routes, the target riders are WAGES clients. WAGES, short for Work and Gain Economic Self-Sufficiency, oversees welfare-to-work programs in many parts of Florida.

For the plan to work, businesses in the Oldsmar area have to come forward with their requests for employees, Gartland said. The express routes were created because several companies have had difficulty finding workers to fill positions and some have left the area because of the difficulty.

Gartland said there are 1,100 businesses with a total of 15,000 employees in a 3-mile radius of Oldsmar City Hall on State Street. In a 5-mile radius of City Hall, there are about 4,000 businesses with a total of 44,000 employees.

Several job fairs will be held in July in the low-income areas targeted by the express bus routes. McDonald hopes to have a standardized application form so people who attend the job fairs can fill out the same application form for all of the businesses at the fair. The goal is to hire workers on the spot, McDonald said.

More than a dozen transportation agencies in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties, as well as the Florida Department of Transportation, WAGES staff in Pinellas and Hillsborough and the chamber have been working on the project for months.

"There are quite a few folks involved and it's great to see this kind of interagency cooperation on a project of this scale," Gartland said. "We are very optimistic that it will help our business communities here. It's a win-win."