Episode 3 dives into the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s MoGo Rideshare, a new on-demand transit service in Mobile, Alabama, designed to enhance job access. Utilizing technology, MoGo offers shared rides in a 17-mile area, aiming to improve workforce accessibility and economic growth by addressing transportation barriers.

Listen Here


Hello and welcome to the Mobile Matters podcast, powered by the Mobile Chamber, where we’re diving deeper into important topics that make a significant impact on Mobile’s thriving business community. I’m your host and President and CEO of Mobile Chamber, Bradley Burn. Today, we get to learn a lot more about some of the major community development projects that are now in motion at the Mobile Chamber, from business navigation for businesses trying to get started, to a new workforce transportation pilot program that’s now live. Our guest today is the Vice President of Community Development, Laura Conor. Welcome, Laura. Good morning, Bradley. Thank you for having me. Glad you’re here. Glad you’re here.
Okay, so Laura, the Community Development Department at the Chamber is not really new, but it kind of faded away, and we brought it back in 2023, and you’ve really hit the ground running. So, tell our listeners what we’re hoping to accomplish in community development.
I’m happy to. About a year and a half ago, both the board of the Mobile Chamber and the Chamber Foundation adopted six strategic initiatives for community and economic development, and they are: workforce transportation, workforce education, workforce housing (which is attainable housing), downtown revitalization, recreation and entertainment, and DEI. The main purpose for these is to capitalize on our regional assets and provide a better quality of life for all the citizens in our area.
So, a lot of people think, okay, is that sort of the United Way, or what is that? Well, what we’re trying to do here is to make sure we at the Chamber are doing the things that support what’s happening in the Mobile economy. In the past year or so, you’ve managed to raise more than $4 million for these initiatives from federal funding, private, and local funding. So, let’s talk about some of the projects, the individual projects that are already underway, and let’s start with this business navigation idea. What is that?
Business navigation started from a grant that the Alabama Department of Commerce gave the Chamber Foundation in partnership with the University of South Alabama and Innovation Portal, to provide small businesses and entrepreneurs, women, and minority-owned businesses, the resources they needed to grow and scale their businesses. And that’s where business navigation started. Since 2022, Barbara Peters, our Business Navigator, has been meeting with small businesses and connecting them to the resources in our community. At the end of 2023, she had seen, worked with about 300 small businesses and entrepreneurs, and connected them to over 800 community resources, which is pretty incredible for one individual in that short period of time.
Okay, so let’s go back to this for a second. So, I’m a new business. I come to the Chamber and say, I’ve got this idea about a new business. I need some help. And our Business Navigator sits down with them, listens to what their ideas are, and then decides, hey, they need access to a bank, they need access to an accountant, they need access to a business plan, whatever their access is, the Business Navigator navigates them to what their needs are. Exactly. And the way you access that is, if you call the Chamber or go to our website, and go to the small business tab, there’s a business navigation popup box, and you just simply start the process. Reach out to us and tell us you’re interested, and then a Business Navigator will call you. What happens from that point is they’ll set up an initial appointment. In that initial appointment, and that’s one of the key features of our program that’s unique, is the Business Navigator will go through a series of questions and do an assessment to find out what your unique business needs are. So, at the same time that we’re identifying what your needs are, we’re getting data on what our Mobile City and our area, what the business needs actually are. So, how much does this cost? It’s free. There is no charge for this service. Free. It’s free. That’s a key point here. There’s no charge. I’ve got an idea, I’ve got a new business, I don’t have a lot of money to get started with. This service is for free. That’s right.
Okay, let’s go on to something else. Another cool thing that you’re all too. So, we’ve also been able to secure a $2.8 million grant from the Minority Business Development Agency. So, tell us what this grant does. This grant actually built upon the success of the original grant that started business navigation services, and the same partners, University of South Alabama and Innovation Portal, we got together and put in a grant for the Minority Business Development Agency’s Capital Readiness program. So, not only does it provide the services to help you grow and scale your businesses, but it’s more focused on getting you ready for access to capital. Ready for capital. So, the programs are basically, in three areas: get access to capital, access to networks, and building your capacity to compete successfully in this ecosystem. So, we know that when it comes to new startups in general, they have a low chance of success, but that’s particularly true for women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses because they don’t have ready access to capital. We’re trying to overcome that hump. That’s right. And the reason we’re doing that is that the more diversity we have in the businesses in this community, the more we have the opportunity to develop this economy. And develop the economy, not just at the big level with the Airbuses and Austals, which are important, but also make sure we’ve got these smaller businesses that are taking advantage of the Airbuses and Austals. We’re making sure that minority business owners, women business owners, veteran business owners, that’s right, are able to truly take advantage of this economy. That’s right. And another key point for this grant is that we’re going to connect you, as one, we’re one of two technical assistance providers in the state for the Small Business Credit Initiative, SBCI. So, that’s a very exciting program that’s coming soon, and you can go to the Innovate Alabama website and connect into us or call the Chamber.
Okay, tell us about this recompete grant that you’re going after. This is very exciting. We were invited as one of 500 applicants, 22 out of 500 applicants, to compete for the recompete EDA recompete grant. And this allows us to provide programs and services to underserved communities and to reduce the prime-age employment gap. The recompete grant allows us to connect the unconnected workforce in our area to jobs. We have a lot of jobs coming that are available, but a lot of people are unaware that they have access to it. And so, we’re connecting them to training and jobs to reduce the prime-age employment gap. So, you know, one of the cool things about what’s happening in Mobile is our economy is so dynamic. We’ve got all this opportunity out there for people, but it doesn’t do them any good if they don’t know about the opportunity. So, this helps them connect into all the stuff that we’re doing.
Okay, so let me shift gears a minute here. We’ve got this really cool thing that we’ve recently announced, and it’s called MoGo. And MoGo is about getting people to and from work, to and from workforce training, who don’t have a car. The number one reason why people in Alabama, able-bodied adults in Alabama, are not working is they don’t have a car. So, we fix that problem in a pilot. That’s right. So, tell us about that real quickly. MoGo is our workforce transportation pilot that we launched on March the 12th. This allows workers to get to training and jobs in a 17-mile zone area in downtown Mobile. It’s an initial pilot, so we’re excited to get it going. It’s a very simple process to connect. If you are going to one of our primary sites, which is Austal, Airbus, Bishop State Community College, the Coastal Community College, Aviation Center, or AID, the cost is free for during the pilot period. And if you’re going to other jobs, it’s $1.25. So, here’s the cool thing about this: if you’re sitting at home, you’re saying, I don’t have a way to get to all these great jobs, this gives you a ride for free. That’s right. And we’ve been able to pay for that because of the grant that you’ve raised. It’s during this pilot period. So, you know, we here at the Chamber are extremely proud of this initiative. We’re also really proud of our community development team. Y’all have done a great job in less than a year and a half. So, thank you, Laura, for all that you do. Thank you for your staff, thank you for all the volunteers that have worked with you, your partners like the Community Foundation, the Jail team, the Chamber team. Chamber team’s done great. So, thank you for that.
Okay, it’s time for a brief sponsor break, but when we come back, we’re going to learn more about how the new ride-share works from a company called Via, and that’s the company that we’ve contracted with to do this. So, hang in there with us. We’re going to hear more about MoGo when we come back.
The Mobile Chamber is proud to introduce the BusinessView tocom, our newest tool to share Mobile’s business news. Dive into community updates, success stories, and company spotlights, all brought to you by the vibrant Mobile business community. On the BusinessView tocom, we’ll applaud local achievements and keep you in the know. The BusinessView tocom, where Mobile’s success stories come alive.
Welcome back, everybody. So, we told you in the first segment about Via, and we have two representatives of Via today. I’m going to ask them to introduce themselves, and I got a couple of questions for them. And I think you’re going to find it very interesting as to how Via works. So, if you two would introduce yourselves for the people that are listening and viewing.
Hi, everyone. My name is Tyrone Smith. I’m the Partnerships Principal at Via, which essentially means I work with the communities and cities to get new transit initiatives off the ground. My name is Sarah Jessica DKS. I’m on the public relations team at Via, and I work with communities all across the country to get the word out about these services, um, out launch, but then also continue to spread news about the amazing results that these programs see as they grow.
Great. So, I understand that they call you SJ. That’s true. Okay, so I’m gonna call you SJ. So, SJ, just give us sort of a big picture. What is Via? What does it do?
Sure. So, since about 2012, we have been on a mission to transform transportation all around the world through the use of technology. And what we want to do is really help cities, just like Mobile, to allow their residents to have access to equitable, flexible, and convenient transportation that is enabled with really intelligent software. We talked previously in this segment about what we’re trying to do here in accomplishing Mobile, with all the new jobs that we’re creating, but with the understanding we’ve got a lot of people out there that don’t have their own means of transportation. Right. So, this is what Via does. And you said all over the world. Yeah, that’s right. So, about 700 communities across the whole globe. Wow, I didn’t know it was that big. Use Via in their communities to, you know, improve transportation in some way, shape, or form. So, in the US, I think we have around right now 150 services that are similar to MoGo, you know, every part of the country. But um, you know, close to here, that would include Birmingham and Baldwin County, Alabama, but also, you know, across the southeast, Valdosta, Georgia, Memphis, Tennessee, and many others.
Well, that’s great. So, you’ve been doing it for a while. You do it a lot of places. You know what you’re doing. Yeah. Okay, so we’re, we’re not a guinea pig here in Mobile. Y’all. No, no, no. I mean, we have seen transformative results all across the country. So, you know, thinking about a place like Birmingham, we launched with them in 2019. So, that’s been a program that’s really had the chance to get off the ground, and we’ve actually seen that within their service zone, Via has helped to expand access to jobs by around 80% for those residents. Wow. So, it grows over time. Absolutely. Yes. Absolutely. And so, we would definitely expect those same kinds of results here in Mobile as well. And another thing I’ll just note is that across all of our services in the country, we definitely see that commuting tends to be like the top use case for why people use it, followed by getting to other essential destinations, such as healthcare facilities, schools, grocery stores, or oftentimes even just other public transit hubs, so other bus stations, train stations, etc.
Yeah, I know. I said at the launch that we’ve got our local USA Medical Center that really wants to talk to y’all because they’ve got a need to get their patients to and from. So, okay, we’re going to ask you, right? All right, let’s get this down to like the grassroots level. How does this really work?
Yep, it’s super convenient because it’s a process that a lot of people are super familiar with. Which and by that, I mean, you get on your smartphone, you download an app, MoGo ride-share app. Once the app opens up, you put in where you want to go. Geolocation figures out where you are, and then the van heads to you. And we’re going to put you in a van with other riders. Along the way, you might drop some people off and pick some other folks up and share in that ride along with others. So, think of it like public transportation, in the sense of a bus, but in a much more a smaller form factor. It’s more agile. We can adjust the service much more easily and rapidly than a big old city bus.
Well, Mayor Simpson and I got to ride in one of your vans, one the ones you’re going to be using down here today, and it was super comfortable. I think it fits six people in addition to your rider, right? And so, people can be getting in and out of that as the driver’s driving around. So, that sounded pretty cool. But okay, suppose I don’t have an app. I don’t know how to use an app. Is there another way that I can figure out how to tie into this system?
Absolutely. You know, we recognize that not everyone’s tech-savvy, um, and so we need to make sure that we’re serving the entire population, right? And so, we have a dedicated phone number that folks can call, uh, and they’ll get their ride booked just the same. And even if they call in and book, if they still have the app, they’ll still get trip notifications as well. So, uh, based on their cell phone number, they’ll be able to know where it is. And you may not come right to my home, but you’ll come close. Close enough to where I can walk pretty easily to where you’re going to be. Exactly. So, think a block or two at the most, uh, that’s to make sure that the ride is efficient. We minimize the detours for everyone else on the on, on the trip. So, right. Right. So, we, I’ve got a map here for those of you who are watching. Those of you who aren’t watching or just listening, but this, this map kind of tells you what our route is right now. Now, this is what the route is right now. So, what we’re talking about earlier is experience in other places. Is this map grows. Absolutely. So, and does it grow? What do we tell you where to go? Do y’all figure out where you need to go? How do, how do you know where to grow?
Yeah, it’s very much data-driven. So, we are looking at, so on a very regular basis, we’re looking at where rides are originating from, uh, where are people opening up the app that’s outside the service zone, uh, so we can actually track that metric as well. And also just partnering with the city, partnering with the Chamber, understanding where the demand is, talking to the healthcare facilities, and saying, where do we think the demand’s going to be? And then, on top of that, we have some proprietary software that will just tell us, kind of based on demographic, how many vehicles people have in their homes, uh, who’s working where. That’ll help us inform the service design. So, we’ve already heard from some companies, uh, particularly some chemical companies, uh, up US Highway 43. That’s North Mobile. And um, they’re interested, um, they’re all looking for workforce, etc. So, we give you that information. What do you do with it?
Yeah, that’s a great question. Uh, ultimately, I mentioned we’re data-driven. We’re a tech company, so we need to get as many bits of data to inform what a service design might look like. How do we expand the service to cover those folks? And a lot of those folks are going to be shift workers. So, that’s going to look a little bit different than, uh, here in East downtown Mobile. So, we’ll need to speak to those employers and, and more importantly, speak to those employees. You know, how many of you are already carpooling to work? Um, how many of you have a real need? And then understanding the community in terms of, are there people that are missing from the workforce, which I think is the point of the service, that uh, could benefit from getting a service all the way up Highway 43?
Yeah, that’s the primary point of the service, is that, um, we know that the number one reason that people in Alabama are not working, adult able-bodied adults, is that they don’t have the means to get to and from work. So, you’re helping to solve that problem. So, we’re a partner, but is there a need for other people in the community, like the Chamber, to be partners with you on this, to make sure that we’re getting the word out there, that we’re spreading what this service can do for people?
Yeah, yeah. I mean, absolutely. And although Vo works with communities all across the country, like, we are so committed to making sure that this is a program that really works for the city of Mobile. And that’s why we want to ensure that, you know, we’re engaging in community education efforts. And, um, you know, that can range from going to a senior center and making sure that those folks are familiar with how to use the service and maybe even getting a little bit of an app demo. And that sort of thing. But also, even just going to high schools and colleges and ensuring that everyone who, you know, this might be able to serve, is going to be feeling confident and comfortable and excited to use the program. So, and you, you brought up schools. I hadn’t thought about high schools, but one of the things that’s on your present route is Bishop State Community College. They’re doing a lot of the career technical education that we need for the new jobs we’re creating. There’s also a state agency called AID that’s also has two locations along your route. So, some of the people that you’ll be taken to and from will actually be first going to those schools. But then they’ll know from that, hey, this is how I would get to my job once I get a job with this new education, training I’ve got. So, I would, I would assume those would be partners as well.
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Um, I think we see so much potential in continuing to grow the partnerships for this program. And, and yeah, we really believe that access to transportation shouldn’t be a barrier to reaching opportunities like education or like, um, you know, career development and economic mobility in a place like Mobile.
Well, that’s really important to us because, you know, we created all these jobs. We attracted all these jobs because we wanted our people to get jobs, good jobs. And if we don’t want to see something as simple as transportation as a roadblock, you know, we want to solve that. That’s while we engage y’all. So, that, that’s important. Let me throw out another. I don’t know if y’all have worked with them before. Churches are big here. Yeah. And they’re close to their community, and they know what’s going on in the individual’s lives and their church. Do you all work with churches too?
Yeah, absolutely, we do. Um, you know, I think actually, religious, um, organizations or churches are among some of the top pickup and dropoff locations that we see in other communities that are similar to Mobile. Um, so I led with the fact that, you know, oftentimes it’s workplaces, um, you know, schools, healthcare facilities, but churches is right up there too.
Yeah, yeah. I can see that here being a real source of partnerships for you guys to get your, get your word out. Okay, so once you’ve got moving here, I know you’re moving now, but once you sort of build up a little bit of scale here, you start using this information, this data that you’re getting to tell you, all right, we know ourselves where we need to grow. So, you just do that on your own?
Uh, it’s definitely a collaborative effort. So, we’re going to be every step of the way, lockstep with the Chamber and with the city, to understand, you know, because there’s obviously a budgetary, uh, issue here. We need to understand where the fun, what funding we have, and how we can use that, right. Um, and, and take it from there. So, it’s not via operating on its own. This is a true partnership. And, uh, we’re here to, to make sure that everything moves as smoothly as…
Yeah. But y’all are the smart people. There are going to be some of this stuff that y’all are going to have to tell us because the city and the Chamber, we got some really great people working in both places, but we don’t know your business and this concept like you do. So, part of this is going to be your company, y’all, whoever, educating us as to what we need to be doing to make sure that we’re supportive and collaborative with what you’re doing.
Absolutely. And so, part of that relationship is, so the city of Mobile will have a dedicated partner success manager that’s going to be liasing with you all on a weekly, monthly basis, reviewing data with you. And it’s one of those things where you’re going to learn along with that partner success manager because every deployment is a little bit different. And so, those week meetings will help inform, you know, the six-month strategy, the one-year strategy. And, and that way, uh, it’s something that everyone’s brought along on the process, if that makes sense.
All right. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but so, how fast are, do you think we’ll scale up?
You know, it’s a tricky question because sometimes it happens really fast. Sometimes, in the first six months, you were like, oh, my goodness, we need more vehicles. Um, and it really depends on how we want to approach the service and who we’re marketing it to. Um, but you guys have a lot of job up growth right now. And so, that’s going to be another indicator of how, how quickly we going to have to grow this thing.
Yeah, two of the locations on your route right now are our Airbus facility, which is growing rapidly, and Austal Shipyard, uh, which is also growing rapidly. Uh, and we work very closely with both of those. But I can tell you from already sort of talking around the community, there are lots of other employers that have a lot of interest in this because there’s a problem with workforce around the country. Uh, you’re helping to bring these people to the workplace, and the workplace needs them. But also, by doing that, you’re lifting up these people’s lives because they go from making nothing or, you know, not very much to working in one of these high-paying jobs. So, your partnership with the, the employers is going to be important, I would think.
Absolutely. This kind of is part of the reason why I work at Via. And this reminds me of my mom. Uh, single mom didn’t have a great job because all she could get to was where the buses would go, and that didn’t, that’s not everywhere, right? And, uh, and so, this allows people to live a life with, you know, with more dignity, which we all deserve, right? So, giving the people the opportunity to earn more and setting those kids up to be the next generation of successful Americans.
That’s a great story right there. I love that. You know, we’re all about the economy and business and all that, but we recognize, and the city recognizes, that what the ultimate goal here, the ultimate thing we’re trying to accomplish is to lift up the quality of life from all the people that live in this area. And as we grow our economy, as we become more dynamic, as we get jobs that pay more and more money, we’re able to use that as a way of lifting people up because nothing lifts somebody up better than to have a great job.
Absolutely. So, y’all, y’all are such great partners with that. Well, we’re just as excited as we can be to have you. I just can’t tell you how excited we are. And the kickoff was just, I mean, we, those of us who’ve been working on it for a long time, really just blown away by. We also have perfect weather, which doesn’t hurt. Doesn’t hurt. And I enjoy driving around the car. So, I can’t tell you how much we’re looking forward to this partnership. Want y’all to come back down here and eat some of our food. Yes, absolutely. Enjoy our hospitality. Help us grow this thing. Help us, um, lift this area.
So, this comes the end of this podcast. April’s podcast is going to be really cool. We’re going to have Chris Curry here. Chris is the Executive Director at the Mobile Airport Authority. He’s going to talk about the move of the airport to downtown, and he’s going to tell you that it’s November 2025, which is not that far away. He’s going to tell you about the new airlines that are coming in and the new direct, uh, destinations we’re picking up. So, it’s just another, uh, indicator that Mobile is on the move. So, thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next month.