The Business Case for Helping Rural Families Get Ahead

Doing business in smaller communities requires finding good employees from a smaller pool of workers. Retaining those good employees can be the difference between profits and loss, or between staying put and relocating.  So why, many rural employers wonder, do their businesses experience such high turnover in the ranks of their low-to-moderate wage workforce? Isn’t steady work in a quality job the most obvious step towards financial stability for these families?

>> Click here to access the RuFES Webinar featuring Working Bridges, a model strategy
for employers looking to help and retain employees
Original Air Date: August 12, 2014, 12 – 1:30 PM ET

The fact is, too often, financial crises and life events can sabotage an employee’s ability to stay focused and on the job. Barriers such as lack of affordable childcare, unreliable transportation and acute financial stress brought on by a family member’s health crisis can get in the way of what would otherwise be dependable employees.  And when workers in these situations lose their jobs, it costs the business a lot in time and money to find and train new employees.

In Vermont, RuFES Network member United Way of Chittenden County knew it would take a concerted effort to resolve this challenge and help keep good workers on the job (See Earn It Goals 56 and 8). But how could they bring everyone to the table?

  • Champion employer partners
  • Increase collaboration between employers and service providers
  • Address the workplace implications of personal financial instability and lack of resources of these firms’ employees
  • Create workplace practices that are a “win-win-win” for individuals, employers and communities.

One of the initiative’s win-win-wins is a traveling benefits coordinator, employed by the United Way, who spends 2-5 hours per week at each business helping minimize employment barriers and maximizing employee access to programs and resources to help stabilize their lives.  Working Bridges reveals how a small investment can yield significant financial and community rewards.

How much does it cost a business to replace an employee?In the seven years since the program’s launch, the region’s employers have become the most vocal advocates of the Working Bridges’ business outcomes:  improved retention rates, increased productivity and reduced hiring and training expenses. The region’s providers of direct services—from the food pantry to a credit union – have adjusted policies and practices to better serve this contingent of families living from paycheck to paycheck. A local credit union has made $1.5 million in loans, with a default rate of less than 1%.

By thoughtfully engaging employers in improving the financial stability of low-to-moderate wage employees, United Way’s Working Bridges has approached helping families earn a living and helping families keep those earnings via Three Rsrelationship, resources and job retention.  Working Bridges is re-defining the workplace as a “platform” for responding to life events that might interfere with work.

Click here for a replay of the Rural Family Economic Success Network’s Webinar on Working Bridges*, featuring Lisa Falcone and Janet Topolsky, Executive Director of Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group.

  • Learn from Working Bridges Project Director Lisa Falcone how the United Way of Chittenden County has woven together an Earn It, Keep It and Grow It strategy that benefits local businesses, employees, families and the community itself.
  • Hear how local businesses lost their initial skepticism when it was outweighed by the business case for Working Bridges.
  • Take action by gauging whether your community has The Five Necessary Conditions to launch a similar strategy.
  • Expand the Idea by helping the United Way of Chittenden County build on the national attention Working Bridges has attracted:  help Lisa envision how Working Bridges 2.0 can expand the “workplace as a platform” model to develop careers, grow businesses and sustain rural family economic security.

*This Webinar originally aired on August 12, 2014 at 12:00 pm ET. 

Jump To:

Introductions & RuFES Framework

Part I: Working Bridges: Where they’ve gone.

  • What is the service, who provides it, and how is it paid for?
  • What are the results?
  • Q&A

Part II: Working Bridges: Where they’re going.

  • Workplace as platform for addressing poverty
  • Opportunities going forward
  • Q&A

Click here to access PPT slides from the Working Bridges PPT Presentation


RuFES is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group.
One Dupont Circle NW, Suite 700, Washington, D.C., 20036