By James Ewinger, The Plain Dealer | January 22, 2018
PAINESVILLE, Ohio — Laketran and Mentor city planners are looking for ways to turn the transit system into an economic driver along Tyler Boulevard, which is home to at least 200 businesses – most involved in light and medium manufacturing.
The quest is for the best way to bolster the businesses along Tyler with workers from inside and outside of Lake County.
Mark Rantala, executive director of the Lake County Port and Economic Development Authority, said in a recent telephone interview that Tyler Boulevard is “one of the major manufacturing centers of Northeast Ohio.
“But many are finding it difficult to fill job openings,” he said. ‘We know we have to turn over every rock to fill the jobs.”
“For some years now, that industrial corridor has enjoyed a resurgence,” said Ron Traub, Mentor’s director of economic and community development. “There are a lot of help-wanted signs out there.”
Laketran does not currently serve Tyler Boulevard, but the concept has been talked about for years — almost since the inception of Laketran in 1974, said Ben Capelle, the transit agency’s new general manager.
What’s different is that this may be the first time that all of the interested parties are being brought to the table to gauge need and potential solutions.
Capelle said that next month, surveys to gauge local needs are going out to all of the stakeholders — the manufacturers, Mentor Chamber of Commerce, the county port authority and the private, non-profit Alliance for Working Together, a coalition that addresses the need of manufacturers in the region.
Laketran has a combined fleet of 123 vehicles: 85 small airport-style shuttles, 22 large over-the-highway commuter buses that ferry people from the heart of Lake county to downtown Cleveland, and 16 fixed-route buses similar to those used by the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.
Capelle said one solution is to expand the role of the commuter vehicles that currently carry people to Cleveland during the day then return home empty.
Another is the small shuttles that presently perform dial-a-ride duties.
He said one goal is to start testing a plan by the end of 2018.
Another objective is to provide the service “at no additional cost,”
He estimates that the expanded service could cost anywhere from hundreds of dollars to more than $100,000. One possibility is for the employers to subsidize the fares for their respective employees.
Currently, GCRTA’s downtown Cleveland trolley service — the heir to the old Loop bus routes – charge no fares because they are underwritten by businesses and other institutions along the routes.
County commissioner Jerry Cirino said by phone Friday that “Laketran is a very important variable in our quest for economic development, not only to that (Tyler) corridor but also in getting retail customers to other businesses.”
The fact that employers are looking for more workers and Laketran is looking for a way to help is yet another example of the quiet prosperity that Lake County seems to be experiencing.
Already, the Great Lakes Mall enjoys a high occupancy rate, and there is a commitment to a $50 million investment to upgrade the place. This comes at a time when some predict the nationwide failure of 300 malls over the next 10 years — about a quarter of the shopping centers currently operating in the U.S.
Mentor’s Traub also said the Visconsi Companies have secured approval for a 20-acre retail development southwest of state routes 615 and 2.
He also said permits to build single-family homes have gone up sharply since 2012 (32 that year, 90 in 2014 and 84 units in 2015). He said the move-ins are a blend of millennials, young families and empty-nesters.
“The secret is that developers are making maximum use of their assets,” he said, building modest village-green style clusters instead of large-lot developments.