A group of local business leaders gathered on October 22 for lunch and to discuss barriers to workforce development in Newaygo County. The luncheon was hosted by Gerber Life Insurance in partnership with Fremont Area Community Foundation.

After a welcome from Luci Moore and Bob McDonald of Gerber Life Insurance, business leaders heard from Tammy Britton, project manager with Talent 2025.

Talent 2025 is a group of West Michigan CEOs working to ensure an ongoing supply of world-class talent for the West Michigan region. Talent 2025 has done extensive research into the barriers that keep people out of the workforce. A lack of reliable transportation to and from work is one of the most common barriers.

Next, Debbi Coleman of Hope Network talked about Wheels to Work. Since it began in 2016 in Walker, the program has provided employees with reliable, efficient transportation to and from work. Using Hope Network’s buses and software, Wheels to Work maps out efficient routes and offers hub-based and curb-to-curb service. Individuals and their employers share the cost of the service, with the employee portion automatically deducted from paychecks. Some employers cover the full cost.

Currently operating in Kent and Ottawa counties, Wheels to Work hopes to expand into other counties and areas.

“We’re trying to find affordable and reliable transportation to and from work for everyone in our region,” said Coleman. “It’s about getting people to work. There are these hidden pockets of talent we’re discovering, and their only barrier was a lack of transportation.”

After the presentation, Carla Roberts, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, invited interested participants to join a working group to study how local businesses may be able to collaborate to bring this service to Newaygo County.