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Forging economic connections on the Fairmount Corridor

Opportunities seen for local job seekers

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO

A strategy for boosting economic development along the Fairmount Corridor by attracting and retaining businesses and jobs — and particularly, connecting corridor residents to those jobs — appears to be gaining traction.

The corridor, which surrounds the route of the Fairmount Line of the MBTA commuter rail, is home to 135,000 residents and thousands of businesses, from small shops to larger food distribution operations and construction supply companies. The Fairmount Line cuts a diagonal path through the city, its trains running from the Readville area of Hyde Park to South Station in 30 minutes, serving parts of Mattapan, Dorchester and Roxbury along the way.

On the web

Report: “Fairmount Indigo Corridor Business and Job Attraction and Retention Strategy”: http://bit.ly/2gQGp6s

Fairmount CDC Collaborative: http://fairmountcollaborative.org

Newmarket Community Partners: http://newmarketcommunitypartners.org

Dec. 7 Newmarket job fair info: http://bit.ly/NewmarketBusinessDistrictRecruit or www.CareerSolution.org or call JVS at 617-399-3100.

A forum last month highlighted the release of a new report, “Fairmount Indigo Corridor Business and Job Attraction and Retention Strategy,” produced by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), The American City Coalition (TACC) and the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) along with a working group of community stakeholders. The report contains numerous recommendations for stimulating business and job growth along the Fairmount Line and providing opportunities to local residents who could access the jobs by train.

The recommendations center around strengthening commercial and industrial clusters in the Newmarket and Readville areas, which are among Boston’s dwindling set of industrial-zoned areas.

Sue Sullivan, executive director of the Newmarket Business Association, said that many of her member businesses have job openings but can’t find people to fill them.

“And at the same time,” she said, “as I work with the Fairmount CDCs, [it’s clear that] these are some of the most underemployed areas of the city. So how do we connect those two needs?”

The hope is that the Fairmount Line could help make that connection.

“If you have people who can get to work easily, they would be good employees, arriving on time, able to get there. It would be a win-win for everyone,” Sullivan said.

Jobs connection

A key recommendation is to link employers and residents in the corridor. To that end, Dara Frederick recently came on board as a business employment specialist, a new position funded by the Fairmount Indigo CDC Collaborative.

In her first few months on the job, Frederick has been meeting steadily with employers, starting in the Newmarket Square area.

At least 30 jobs were available as of early November, she said, and some 13 residents had applied, with at least two making it to the interview process.

“There are a lot of residents with great resumes, but maybe they’ve been laid off or been home with children,” Frederick said. “The CDCs know the residents, and part of the plan is that the CDC organizers notify residents in their areas. They’re starting to get the word out.”

For those who are not ready for the available jobs, Frederick works to arrange on-the-job training or locate training with partner organizations, including STRIVE, JVS CareerSolution, Career Collaborative and New England Center for Arts and Technology (NECAT).

Recent job openings have included catering and food service, entry-level jobs in warehouse shipping and receiving, customer service, office work, hotel management, sales management, certified mechanic, heavy equipment operation, truck driving and medical specialties. Many positions do not require college degrees. Starting wages run from about $14 per hour to more than $22 per hour, Frederick said.

Job-seekers typically come to Frederick through organizations such as the three community development corporations comprising the Fairmount CDC Collaborative — Codman Square NDC, Dorchester Bay EDC and Southwest Boston CDC.

Employers with open positions should contact her directly, she said, at (857)302-9639 or dfrederick@dbedc.org.

Next week, Frederick will be at a Newmarket Business District job recruiting fair hosted by JVS CareerSolution at 75 Federal Street in downtown Boston. She will represent employers including Brookline Ice Company, ReEnergy Holdings LLC, Wicked Catering and tCognition, an technology staffing and consulting firm profiled in the “business narratives” section of the new report. For information on the job fair, which will be on Wednesday, Dec. 7 from 12 to 3 pm, call JVS at 617-399-3100 or see http://bit.ly/NewmarketBusinessDistrictRecruit or www.CareerSolution.org.

Challenges

Around the same time the report was released last month, the Boston Globe reported that the Fairmount Line has more trains canceled than other lines, and that Fairmount trains are sometimes taken to fill gaps on other lines. Congressman Michael Capuano has asked the Department of Justice to examine whether such diversions of service from a line that serves minority and low-income riders to lines in more affluent communities might rise to the level of federal civil rights violations by the operator, Keolis Commuter Services.

Speakers at the business and job retention strategies forum noted that rail service must become more frequent and reliable if the corridor’s full economic development potential is to be realized. Fairmount Line advocates have worked for many years to champion the line. Their efforts have resulted in new and refurbished stations, the addition of weekend service and the reduction of passenger fares to match subway pricing — but the level of service that would attract a steady ridership has remained out of reach. At one point, plans were in the works to purchase a smaller type of car that would enable more frequent and efficient service, but under the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker, that expenditure is on hold.

Nevertheless, the event ended with on a high note with a keynote and call to action by Steve Grossman, CEO of ICIC.

“This corridor has immense potential,” Grossman said. “We will never be able to guarantee equal outcomes for every resident and business, but we sure as heck should be involved in equal opportunity — leveling the playing field, catalyzing small business growth and development, keeping wealth in the community.”

Power in numbers

Could an increase in businesses and jobs bring a louder collective voice and greater clout for the Fairmount Corridor?

ICIC’s Grossman and Newmarket’s Sullivan think so.

“Any time you can put together a larger, more powerful business community,” Grossman told the Banner, “it gives that community a more significant voice in recommending and insisting on changes in public policy that level the playing field.”

Sullivan noted that her organization has 235 member businesses and that the Fairmount Network includes more than 20 organizations.

“I think when we hear the voices of a combined group, everyone pays attention,” she said. “We spent millions of dollars on these new rail stops. Now we have to make sure they’re utilized.”