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  • A strong relationship between transit providers and economic development professionals is crucial for transit planning 
  • Cooperation leads to understanding the unique transportation challenges for businesses and developing proactive mobility solutions 
  • Relationships with economic development professionals can be strengthened by maintaining open communication, attending economic development meetings, and sharing information about new or upcoming transportation services

Transit providers and economic development professionals are well aligned to strengthen each other’s goals, yet they seldom collaborate.

This is a missed opportunity.

Transit drives economic development in many ways, including supplying labor to meet demands — a major selling point to prospective businesses. On the other hand, economic development leaders have inside knowledge about the specific transportation needs of local businesses. This information is highly valuable for transit service planning and increasing ridership, making it well worth the effort for transit and economic development professionals to establish a relationship.

In spite of this, there is still too often a void between the two professions. 

Economic development partnerships can vary in complexity, from having open channels of communication to large-scale projects like a transit-oriented district. Either way, any level of collaboration stands to be mutually beneficial, and most importantly, provides the community with more access to transportation services. 

Here are some key ways for transit providers to establish or strengthen a relationship with economic development professionals.

Know What Businesses are Moving In

Transit can improve its strategic planning by gaining knowledge about new businesses moving into the area, and the transportation needs those businesses require. Businesses often move to the outer reaches of the transportation service area where land is more readily available, but it is often too far away for a traditional fixed-route system. Conversely, businesses might also face barriers of limited parking because they are moving into a more densely-populated area. In these cases, it is better to proactively respond to transit barriers rather than wait for frustrated companies and employees to voice their concerns. By working with economic development leaders, transit can anticipate these needs and be prepared in advance for the need to meet first-mile/last-mile challenges with a potential shuttle program or on-demand microtransit service in place. Open communication between transit providers and economic development professionals is important, but structured quarterly meetings that aim to improve strategic service planning can ensure that communication does not drop off. 

Attend Existing Businesses Meetings

Economic development means being in regular contact with many groups — including existing businesses — and ensuring they are retained. By joining these meetings, transit providers can learn firsthand about the specific transit barriers from the perspective of business leaders, especially in the wake of the pandemic and labor shortages.

Existing businesses generally want to know about upcoming service changes or new services the agency has to offer that are specific to their needs. For example, a town or city’s Downtown Business Association would like to learn about the exact services that move people to that area, how late they run, if there is a safe ride program, and if special events shuttle services can be of benefit. Once educated on transportation service offerings, businesses will often request service information to distribute to their employees and customers. In addition, enhanced community connections tend to reveal why people are riding existing services — and why they might not be — in a way that data cannot.

Share Your Marketing Materials

When businesses consider moving into a new area, they evaluate more than real estate. They look at their prospective employees’ quality of life in the community. Depending on their sector, they might also be interested in how their customers are going to access their business. Marketing materials that demonstrate transit’s access to employment, healthcare, education, and entertainment are well worth sharing with economic development professionals. This also provides them with readily-available materials for information requests that require prompt responses. 

An Investment in Partnerships is an Investment in the Community

By strengthening collaborations with economic development professionals, transit providers are not just playing a role in attracting and retaining new businesses, but they are improving existing services, increasing mobility options, and enhancing community outreach efforts. While building partnerships takes time and commitment, the benefits of working with economic development leaders are well worth the investment, ultimately showing commitment to the community as a whole.