CIRCLEVILLE — For Pickaway County residents with transportation needs, Pickaway County Community Action (PICCA) now has an option to help you get to work in Ashville, and in the Rickenbacker area in the north.
The grant program, The Ohio Transit Partnership Program, is funded by the state. The year-long grant will allow PICCA to provide free transportation to and from Circleville, Ashville and the Rickenbacker Transportation Hub, where people can get on a COTA bus and go where they need to from there. The rides are free through the program.
“Our mission is to provide people with opportunities that are going to improve their lives and this is something that will do that for a lot of folks with transportation barriers,” Becky Hammond, PICCA Executive Director, said.
Bruce Rickerd, PICCA’s former transportation manager who helped to acquire the grant, said they began talking to the state about this program a few years ago based on the needs they saw.
“When we did our annual review, one of the needs we saw was transportation to job centers,” he said. “There were other things they felt were important, but we felt this is something we needed to put on the burner. One of the things about government is they’re helpful, but not as swift as we want them to be. We knew the pot was going to have to simmer before it came to a boil.”
Rickerd said they’ve submitted for the program three times and it has received support verbally, but it ultimately didn’t make it into the budget until the 2020 state budget process.
“When the legislature came up with the increase about a year and a half ago, it got moved to the front of the list and we got the approval,” he said.
The Rickenbacker Transportation Hub, where the PICCA bus will meet to pick people up from work and drop them off, is also a place where Lancaster Transportation meets in addition to COTA and the Greater Rickenbacker Employee Transportation Hub. Rickerd said COTA is planning to improve facilities there in the near future.
Rickerd said they’re hoping to adapt the program to take people to Groveport, but also take people from there and bring them to Pickaway County.
“That means we can provide more labor pool for the jobs here in Pickaway County,” he said. “That’s going to spur growth in the northern part of the county. It’s a two-way street.”
Ryan Scribner, Pickaway Progress Partnership (P3) Executive Director, said that PICCA has been strategic in their planning. P3 is the economic development entity for Pickaway County.
“We’ve got huge opportunities around Rickenbacker,” he said. “We’re at nine entitles on the Pickaway County side of Rickenbacker and we’re about to add three more. They’re all fully leased with thousands of jobs. It’s a great demand and pull, but the biggest challenge is getting these facilities fully staffed and operational. The work PICCA is doing to connect people from the Circleville area with opportunities there is incredibly important. This is a start that is something we can scale up and grow as development happens up there.”
Scribner said when he talks with prospective employers in the area, workforce is just as important as the infrastructure part.
“You have to have an answer on the workforce and people side of the equation,” he said. “We’re attacking this on a number of different fronts and this is a neat tool in the tool box to get people who are willing, ready and able to work in the workforce.”
Scribner said he’s heard of people who started the entry-level jobs and have now worked their way up the ladder to better jobs in management and other areas of the workforce.
“There’s one gentleman in particular that’s now managing a million square feet of warehouse,” he said. “There’s a great story in the making, that when you eliminate barriers, people succeed. That’s what it’s all about.”
Scribner said COTA can’t cross county lines, but PICCA can.
“They can interconnect with resources there and that’s good for job creators on both sides of the county line and job seekers,” he said. “It just makes sense to do this that way.”
Scribner said having this resource eliminates the barrier to work for people who might not otherwise have a reliable way to that area.
“It will allow them to start fresh with new career opportunities up there,” he said.
OhioMeansJobs Pickaway County can help connect people with jobs in the area.
Cristy Stewart, program manager with OhioMeansJobs, said transportation has always been an issue, especially to that area.
“That’s where a lot of jobs are that pay great,” she said. “Transportation is big barrier for people.”
Stewart said people are looking to get back to work, mentioning that their resource room had more visitors recently following changes to unemployment benefits.
“We were having two and three people come in, but we had 17 people in there today,” she said.
Scribner said another added layer is that the bus can fit 12 people on board and that can help keep congestion down along U.S. Route 23.
“It’s getting congestion now, but anything we can do to drive density is a good thing,” he said.
For more information on the transportation program, PICCA can be reached at 740-477-1655. To learn about the job opportunities and with assistance applying, OhioMeansJobs Pickaway County can be reached at pickawayjobs.com or at 740-420-7339.