Lancaster Chamber Lancaster Chamber

Transporting A New Idea For Workforce Development

Impact & Advocacy
April 22 2019
This article first appeared in Thriving! magazine and was written by Adam Aurand, Director of Strategic Communications at the School District of Lancaster.

Photography by Tennison Photography

On the morning of March 4, an employee of High Concrete Group boarded a 15-passenger van in Lancaster City and rode to his workplace, more than 20 miles away in Denver, Pa. It’s something of an employee perk—and it only costs $10 a week.

“I can’t move my plant—and it’s here for a good reason,” says John (J.) Seroky, president of High Concrete Group. “We’re trying to meet people where they are.”

The new transportation service is a partnership between two large county employers—High Concrete, in Denver, and Four Seasons Produce, in nearby Ephrata—supported by the Lancaster Chamber, Red Rose Transit Authority (RRTA) and Commuter Services of Pennsylvania. The collaboration aims to help eligible workers living in Lancaster City to thrive in open jobs in the northern area of Lancaster County—without having to worry about transportation to and from work.

'Ideal Time'

“We are located within about a six- to eight-minute drive of thousands of jobs,” says Nelson Longenecker, Vice President of Business Innovation for Four Seasons, a wholesale produce distributor with customers across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. “The challenge has always been to supply that workforce from the surrounding areas.”

It’s a challenge that hinders the company’s ability to grow, he says. At full staff, Four Seasons has some almost 800 associates, but it is common for the business to have nearly 10 percent of its positions open.

“It’s hampered our ability to add significant business as we’ve gotten a higher profile,” Longenecker admits. “We’ve got a lot of growth opportunities, so building our team with the right kind of talent is a high priority for us.”

At the same time, High Concrete struggles to convert good interviewees into full-time workers and, if it does, maintain steady work from the employee after it hires them. That’s in spite of the company’s reputation for competitive starting pay—up to $18 per hour—and quickly moving people up the scale. Likewise, the Four Seasons professional ranks are peppered with dozens of people who started in entry level positions in the warehouse.

Both companies identified the same culprit: lack of transportation.

“We did a scatter map of eight companies, where they are and where their employees were coming from,” explains Heather Valudes, the Chamber’s Community Impact Director, who collaborated with the two companies to address transit gaps. The study revealed pockets of employees traveling from surrounding cities—Lancaster and Reading—and the potential to recruit more in neighborhoods with higher rates of underemployed or unemployed individuals.

“Folks are looking for a good employer with benefits, either as a first-time employee or someone underemployed,” Longenecker suggests. “We offer starting positions that many times have led to a career within the organization.”
A member of the Chamber board for seven years, Longenecker called this the “ideal time” to combat poverty by linking in-demand jobs to city residents.

Making It Work

The vans make several trips with six stops in the city, including at Spanish American Civic Organization (SACA), Community Action Partnership and Hotel Lancaster. The trips are scheduled to include drop-off and pick-up times at Four Season and High Concrete that coincide with shift changes.

“The real revelation came about when we realized that, at High Concrete, most of our folks are coming to work when most of the folks are going home from Four Seasons,” Seroky says. “It worked out that the shuttles would not be empty in one direction.”

That helps bring the price down. The total cost for one rider per month is $104. The employer contributes $64 while the employee contributes $40 as a pretax payroll deduction. The only other requirement is that the employee gets to the designated stop on time.

RRTA manages the service, and contributed $100,000 from a state grant to get the pilot off the ground. The High Foundation stepped in with an additional $20,000.

“We need subsidy in order to build it,” Valudes explains, pointing out that it will take close to full ridership to break even. “There’s no profit motive—we don’t have any financial gain.”

Both companies are marketing the service to their existing workforce as a benefit, and a few of the first riders were current employees. They’re also using it to recruit parts of Lancaster City, particularly neighborhoods in the southern part of the City—and some new employees are on board as well.

Scale and Sustainability 

Over the first year, Valudes hopes to grow to more than 100 riders utilizing the service. She also expects, over time, to better calibrate the routes and times to bring the overall cost down.

Four Seasons and High Concrete hope to see the service able to scale sustainably, possibly including other employers and other parts of the county. Seroky hopes the service can expand to Reading, as about a third of his employees live in Berks
County and his shifts start and end at uncommon times.Typically, “folks need a second vehicle to work for us, and that
seemed like more than we can ask,” he says. And it may have an ancillary benefit of easing congestion for those folks who do choose to drive their own car.

That’s why Seroky is confident the model has merit—and ridership will come. As he speaks, a van drives by on one of its first runs for the new program.

“I think people just need to see the actual vans on the road.”

Search the blog


Recent Post

Follow Us

Lancaster Chamber
115 East King Street
Lancaster, PA 17602
Tel: (717) 397-3531
Fax: (717) 293-3159

Copyright © 2019 Lancaster Chamber of Commerce  Website Designed by Quantum Dynamix Lancaster, PA