Column: Southwest Light Rail is about moving people…and so much more

Shannon Full was recently hired as TwinWest Chamber President to replace Brad Meier, who left the organization in October. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Kristen Miller)
Shannon Full

By Guest Columnist Shannon Full

TwinWest Chamber of Commerce has been a vocal supporter of the Southwest Light Rail Transit line for many years—from the beginning of the planning stages until today. Our support for the line is goes deeper than the core function of moving people. The SWLRT is a critical component in the ability of our region to compete in today’s global marketplace. The SWLRT is about transportation—but it is also about people and economic competitiveness.

Moving People: A 20-year forecast calls for the creation of 60-80,000 additional jobs along the Southwest Light Rail corridor; that is roughly the population of St. Cloud. Imagine every person in the city of St. Cloud is now working along that corridor and each of them is traveling by car! Getting workers to those jobs and allowing employers to reach out to potential employees from the greater metropolitan area will be critical to the success of those businesses. Absent a transit option, a business located along that corridor may reconsider their plan and grow their business elsewhere; resulting in a direct loss of capital investment and tax base. Equally important, but often overlooked, are the secondary effects on supporting supply chain businesses, local residents and communities, and the loss of philanthropic giving and volunteerism.

Access and Attraction of Talent: Talent – It’s a numbers game. People are leaving the workforce at a higher rate than those entering the workforce. Businesses are in a fierce competition to attract the best and the brightest talent to help maintain and grow their business. Business success equates to direct economic success for our state, our region and our community. A robust transit system is essential to moving the workforce throughout the region. Millennials welcome and embrace the sharing economy and many see no reason to own a car, and are choosing to move to cities with effective, efficient transit infrastructure. Baby boomers, who enjoy good health and wish to stay engaged in the workforce, are also seeking alternatives to cars at a greater rate. The idea of not having to deal with traffic and parking are attractive alternatives for workers of all generations.

Economic Competitiveness: Companies will go, grow, and stay where they are best able to meet the needs of their business. Every day our local companies are being courted to leave Minnesota or expand elsewhere – Wisconsin, Texas, South Carolina, etc. These states and regions are extremely aggressive and make a convincing case that businesses flourish in their communities; all of which boast better business environments than Minnesota. Investments in fixed infrastructure projects like the Southwest Light Rail are not only transportation projects, but have the direct benefit of increased economic development and revitalization along the line. This is not a partisan issue; this is an issue of economic competitiveness. The metro regions that are competing with us have come to that conclusion and are making those investments to drive their economic vitality.

We must have a comprehensive approach to create a positive business climate. A competitive tax environment, access to great talent, and strategic relationships with leaders and legislators that see the positive benefits of business attraction and expansion are all important to creating the best environment for Minnesota employers and employees. Vision and investment for the future will determine the economic success of the Twin Cities metro region and the state of Minnesota as a whole. I encourage legislators and the governor to be mindful of all the factors that create a competitive and desirable business environment and invest wisely in the future of our state. A transit system that works for Twin Cities’ businesses and workers is an important component to that success.

Shannon Full is president of the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce.