Workers need jobs, jobs need workers Reverse commuting: MTA must improve city-to-suburb mass transit to fill job vacancies.

April 14, 1997

THERE IS A simple answer to the problem of stores, restaurants and other businesses in Howard County that can't find enough workers.

Import them.

There's little interest in building the moderate and lower-priced homes that might entice more people who could fill such jobs to move to the county. Real estate developers' idea of affordable housing is New Colony Village, a former mobile-home park off U.S. 1, where houses being built will cost $90,000 to $130,000.

The affluence of a county population that typically spends a lot more on a house means it does not include enough residents who want to fill lower-wage jobs that pay $6 to $10 an hour.

A Bagel Bin store owner says it is hard to find even teen-agers willing to work because a lot of parents in Howard "don't want their kids getting their hands dirty." The store is offering tuition reimbursement, paid vacation and health insurance to attract more workers.

As part of its "empowerment zone" funding, Baltimore has received a $1.6 million grant to start a van-pool for East Baltimore residents who work in Howard and Anne Arundel counties. But that will transport only 400 people, mainly to the business corridor near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

It won't help Columbia and other parts of Howard. The county needs a more reliable and frequent transportation system that can bring in and take home workers from the city who want the jobs that Howard residents are shunning.

The Mass Transit Administration has been reluctant to expand its limited bus service to Howard. But given the number of Howard companies looking for workers -- some of them already running or thinking about operating their own van service -- this is an issue that MTA needs to reconsider.

Every day, about 53,000 commuters drive into Howard County. Richard Story, executive director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, says most of these commuters are people who can't afford to live in the county. That's a large enough base for MTA to attract more bus riders, but only if the buses are there when people need them to be. Better bus service would allow the people who need work to get to the jobs that need workers.

Pub Date: 4/14/97

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