Companies to use rides to fill jobs

Employers look to Baltimore for needed workers

Wages up to $11 an hour

Officials await $650,000 grant for transportation

April 01, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The idea of helping someone get to work sounds simple, but it's not.

Not when the jobs are in labor-starved Howard County and the workers are in job-starved West Baltimore's empowerment zone.

That's why a coalition of leaders from county, city, state and regional government agencies met with several dozen Howard employers at a Dorsey hotel yesterday.

They're expecting to get $650,000 in federal and local grant money to begin by July to bring workers from older city neighborhoods to fill evening- and night-shift jobs in booming Howard County, where hourly wages of up to $11 are going begging.

Even before the money is approved, officials want to get employers interested and aware and learn what jobs are available and what training might be needed.

The first workers recruited for these jobs would be chauffeured for free from their front doors by sedan services and guaranteed rides home for emergencies.

The hope is that once the program is established, there will be enough workers and jobs to run buses on fixed schedules, as some large Howard employers are doing on their own.

The shuttle service will be managed by BWI Business Partnership, Inc., and job training will be available through Howard County.

Blessed with a hot economy and a low, 2-percent unemployment rate, Howard officials hope the program will help fill gaps at wholesale and retail businesses in fast-growing employment centers like the U.S. 1 corridor and the Gateway office park in east Columbia.

Boise Cascade, an office supply firm employing 240 people in Elkridge along U.S. 1, needs warehouse and office employees to start on the 2 p.m. to 10: 30 p.m. shift at $10.84 an hour, said Sharon L. Carmody, a company senior human resources specialist who attended the breakfast.

"We're constantly hiring" 60 to 70 people a year, she said.

Businesses at the Maryland Food Center in Jessupand in the Gateway office park off Route 175 need clerical, warehouse and truck-driving help.

Kathleen Kline, human resources vice president at Sysco Food Services in the Jessup food complex, said her firm has been expanding, hiring up to 100 people a year.

"We hire [for] the night shift," she said. The shift starts at 6 p.m. for warehouse workers paid $11 an hour and truck drivers paid $13 an hour.

Some firms have begun raiding each other for trained workers, some business people said.

"We will close this decade with a 50 percent increase in jobs. No other county in the state comes close to that," Richard W. Story, director of the county's economic development authority, told the 60 public officials and private employers at the Dorsey meeting.

County Executive James N. Robey called the county's economic growth "a double-edged sword" that is "wonderful" but also creates problems for companies trying to fill lower-end jobs.

After visiting 70 businesses last week, Robey said nearly every one, from law firms to fast-food restaurants, complained to him that people who want to work can't get to the jobs.

"There's an assumption that if you live in Howard County, you own a car, but that isn't true," Robey said about poorer residents.

Howard is too small to get extensive mass transit, "so we have to get creative," he said, because Baltimore residents, trapped in older neighborhoods with high unemployment, are even less able to get to suburban jobs miles beyond the nearest bus line.

The newest effort to solve that problem depends on confirmation of a Federal Transit Administration grant that Carl Balser, Howard's transportation planner, said could come any day.

Combined with money available through the Empower Baltimore Management Corp. and the state Mass Transit Administration, Balser expects to have $650,000 to spend in the first of six years.

"What we're trying to do is get our ducks lined up so we can hit the ground running," when the money comes through, he said, noting that Howard's proposal was rated the best in the metropolitan area by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.

Rachel F. Edds, assistant to the president of the Empower Baltimore Management Corp., said her group has $1 million in federal money for "reverse commuting" programs -- providing transportation for people leaving the city for suburban jobs, rather than commuting into town from the counties.

There are 118 residents of the East Baltimore empowerment zone enrolled in a similar program, called Bridges to Work, she said.

"What we're trying to find are career opportunities for residents. The transportation piece is a missing element," Edds said.

The West Baltimore zone that the new program would serve extends from North Avenue south to Interstate 95, she said.

Under the empowerment zone program, the city received $100 million in federal funds starting in 1992 for a collection of employment, housing and commercial revitalization programs, using everything from tax incentives to transportation to rejuvenate older neighborhoods.

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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