Transit bill would boost Kenosha and Racine

    Today’s dynamic economic landscape is a place of rapid change where businesses and workers alike must constantly reinvent themselves, making the services provided by southeastern Wisconsin’s higher education institutions more important than ever to everyone’s overall competitiveness and success.

    As the heads of local colleges and universities, we believe state leaders must act quickly if we’re to continue meeting these needs. That means establishing dedicated funding options to improve area bus services in Kenosha and Racine, while building an efficient regional transit network with KRM Commuter Rail connections that link us with the Milwaukee-Chicago economy.

    Reliable and dependable transit empowers personal and economic growth by creating mobility and connectivity that leverage our investments in education and training. We get a better ROI (return on investment) by maximizing access to our campuses throughout the region to make available a greater, more diverse scope of programs and faculty to the largest possible number of prospective students. Good transit between campuses expands program and faculty sharing, which results in greater access and flexible degree and training programs that are highly responsive to employment trends. At the same time, convenient access to our substantial offerings, such as continuing education classes, visiting lecturers, summer programs for youth and adults, and numerous sporting and cultural events, is an asset for the broader community.

    Moreover, better transit is vital to developing our area as a prime location between two major metro economies and enhances our ability to work closely with our chambers of commerce and business groups on critical goals to “attract, engage, and retain talent” and create jobs.

    For example, Gateway Technical College is home to Snap-On Inc.’s National Diagnostics Training Center, a service that supports the tool company’s training needs while giving students access to national job networking. Also, when A&E Tools Inc, moved from Texas to Racine, Chairman/CEO John Lang stated: "Factors such as local support for our company, the skill-set of the local workforce, and the necessary training and adult education programs to support our manufacturing operation helped us choose Wisconsin."

    Though encouraging, his words also hold cause for concern. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranks the U.S. 15th among 29 industrialized countries in college completion rates. Furthermore, the Business-Higher Education Forum recently warned that the "glaring and growing need" for higher-skilled and credentialed workers is exacerbating our economic woes and hurting our long-term outlook.

    Let’s heed that warning. The greater the access to and between our campuses and higher education institutions, the more value we can create for the diverse student, business, and community interests we serve. Clearly, education doesn’t just help businesses; it’s a critical need in their formulas for success. Access by people on all sides of the equation is paramount.

    Combined, all post-secondary institutions in the Southeast Wisconsin M-7 region serve a total student population in the hundreds of thousands. This includes full- and part-time students, many of whom are working heads-of-households and single parents. Some reside in residence halls or campus apartments or arrive by car, but an increasing number look for transit options. Their reasons vary from economics to convenience and productivity. But one thing is consistent – economics is a growing issue in education access and affordability.

    Current bus service to University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Carthage College, and some of Gateway’s campuses is limited or non-existent. Given today’s household budgetary concerns and demanding, busy schedules, can we afford the added stress of making car ownership a prerequisite for improving one’s educational or economic standing? Expanded bus service in Kenosha and Racine coupled with KRM Commuter Rail reduces or removes such barriers to self-improvement and a college degree.
    We urge government leaders to take action now to put a powerhouse of education behind our businesses, recharging their efforts to grow jobs and give the people of southeastern Wisconsin a boost toward upward mobility.

    Carthage College, Gateway Technical College, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, and the higher education institutions across our region possess a staggering storehouse of knowledge, lead innovation and research, develop tomorrow’s leaders that further enhance economic development.

    Let’s utilize transit to tap these resources and move ahead together toward a brighter future. Let’s get on-board with a Regional Transit Authority that we need to accomplish our goals and fulfill our economic potential as a city, region, and state.

    This Milwaukee Biz Blog was jointly written by: Bryan Albrecht, president, Gateway Technical College; Greg Campbell, president, Carthage College; and Deborah Ford, chancellor, University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

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