Jefferson exploring shuttles to lure ISU students for jobs

Greene County leaders are working aggressively on increasing housing stock to meet the needs of one of the more rapidly growing jobs bases in Iowa.

Ken Paxton, executive director of the Greene County Development Corp., is optimistic about at least two new residential developments in Jefferson: one, a 48-condominium arrangement, and the other, a 14-unit apartment complex.

“The goal is to have them up and available by summer because that’s when the onslaught will take place,” Paxton said.

Wild Rose Jefferson is expected to open in August, with the associated Cobblestone Inn & Suites perhaps available for lodging before that.

Hy-Vee is now under construction in Jefferson and medical and manufacturing facilities are expected to increase their employee ranks.

The GCDC is grooming lots along U.S. Highway 30 and elsewhere for development of more businesses.

Carroll and Greene counties are in the running for a new manufacturer, and another major business announcement, still under wraps but logistically and financially wrapped up, is expected soon for Greene County.

These are go-go-go times for Greene County, which is zooming down an open-stretched future with no red lights in sight.

In fact, Paxton, who has helmed the GCDC for five years, said the 3.6 percent unemployment rate Iowa Workforce Development listed for October in Greene County is the lowest he’s seen.

Paxton’s over-arching goal: take full advantage of the new jobs by attracting people to live in Greene County, send their kids to school here and pay taxes and shop and contribute in unlimited ways to community life.

That considered, commuting, especially in the short term, will be a key component of deepening the labor pool.

To lure part-time workers, Paxton and his board are eyeing potential with running Region 12 Council of Governments shuttle buses from Jefferson (and possibly other places in Greene County) to Ames to tap into the 34,700-student Iowa State University.

“One of the things we’d like to explore through our labor task force is utilizing some of those buses to run a shuttle system, starting specifically at Iowa State University in case a lot of kids over there want to do part-time jobs at the casino or Hy-Vee or some of our other facilities,” Paxton said in an interview. “We’d shuttle them over from Iowa State. We could stop at Boone and Ogden on the way and come over here and have two or three drop-offs here and have that run three or four times a day.”

Denison, also in Region 12’s network, uses shuttles to transport workers from within the city and Schleswig to Tyson, a meat-packing facility, said Rick Hunsaker, executive director of Region 12.

Hunsaker said Region 12 already has spoken with Paxton and is encouraged by the prospect of using vans and even transit buses to connect Jefferson and Ames.

There are a number of ways it could work.

According to Hunsaker, Region 12 would provide the buses. The GCDC or a collection of local employers — or even just one large business — would recruit and pay the drivers of the shuttles. Businesses could offer the cost of the fare as an incentive to employees, or the worker could be charged for a ride.

Region 12 also provides a subsidy for these rides in addition to what may be paid by riders, businesses, GCDC, or others, Hunsaker said.

“It’s a pretty amazing thing,” Paxton said. “It could be done really economically.”

Paxton stressed that the ISU connection would be aimed at part-time people.

“We have a lot of jobs that won’t be full-time, and if we have a hard time filling those, why not shuttle them over here,” Paxton said.

Linking college kids with businesses in Greene County could lead, of course, to full-time careers here when they graduate. It’s a logical bridge to build from a host of perspectives.

The shuttle system could start soon. Hunsaker said Region 12 has the vehicles on the ready. He just needs riders.

“We’re ready to go whenever,” Hunsaker said.

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