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The Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation is launching a feasibility study on a vanpool program for workers in Floyd and nearby counties.

Established by the General Assembly in 2019, the entity also known as Georgia’s Rural Center has identified workforce transportation as a vital piece of the puzzle for job creation and retainment.

“Transportation is key in Northwest Georgia, where lines are crossed between rural and urban communities when it comes to jobs and opportunity,” Project Manager Janet Cochran said in a release announcing the plan.

“Hopefully, this study will assist these communities with finding solutions toward steady employment and a reliable workforce with the option of better transportation,” she said.

The study will run through the early summer in Georgia’s economic development Region 1: Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Fannin, Floyd, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk, Walker, and Whitfield.

“We hope to find options that are replicable in other rural areas,” Associate Director Scott Blount said.

Initial review indicates there were 360,000 workers in the region as of 2016 and 46.4% worked outside their county of residence.

RS&H, Inc., an integrated architecture, engineering, and consulting firm, will partner with the Center on the study.

Plans are to evaluate existing transportation barriers using both quantitative and qualitative approaches. Residents and key stakeholders in the communities will be involved in developing recommendations.

Rachel Hatcher, RS&H senior planner and project manager, said access to affordable and dependable transportation is one of the most fundamental barriers to workforce development and employee retention.

“In rural regions, the population is more dispersed and typically located further from major job centers, creating unique challenges for employers and employees alike,” Hatcher added.

The thought is that vanpools could be an option for commutes in rural areas where public transit is minimal or nonexistent.

They’ll look at the feasibility of establishing groups of five to 15 employees sharing a ride to work. Drivers would be designated from the participating employees, who all meet at a selected location and time based on their schedules

Housed at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia’s Rural Center serves as a central information and research hub for rural best practices. Areas of focus include community planning, industry-specific assistance and other cooperative efforts with local partners.

To learn more about the Center, visit www.ruralga.org.

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