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Perham-Wadena bus route may be just down the road

Otter Tail County’s Transit Alternatives, part of Productive Alternatives, is likely to start a new bus route between Perham and Wadena in response to the needs of Perham employers. County funding is part of the plan. Pictured is one of the likely drivers of the bus, Gary Denbrook. Tom Hintgen/FOCUS

Otter Tail and Wadena counties may partner on a new bus route between Perham and Wadena.

The route is being considered in response to employer needs in Perham, especially after KLN Family Brands’ recent announcement that it would be bringing interns from overseas to temporarily fill open positions at the company. Those interns will be housed in Wadena.

At a meeting last Tuesday, the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners approved $22,500 to go toward the purchase of a used bus to run along the Highway 10 Wadena-Perham corridor. Transit Alternatives, part of the non-profit Productive Alternatives, would operate the bus, and is willing to contribute $10,000. Transit Alternatives’ Otter Express busses are recognized around the region.

At press time, Wadena County had not yet agreed to contribute its expected share of $10,000, but was likely to do so soon, according to discussion Tuesday. If Wadena County opts in, the initial $45,000 cost of the bus is nearly covered. Local businesses will help pay for ongoing operating expenses.

“Contributions from all three entities would just about pay for the bus,” said Steve Skauge, president of Productive Alternatives. “KLN and other businesses are willing to subsidize the operating costs, hopefully when we get going in the not-too-distant future.”

Likely stops along the bus route would take place at Bluffton and New York Mills.

“Since there are different work shifts at KLN and other places in Perham, the bus routes from Wadena to Perham and back would need to be adjusted, accordingly,” said Skauge. “Once Wadena County is on board, and the used bus is purchased, we’re confident a final bus schedule can be put into place.”

Otter Tail County Commissioner Doug Huebsch, who represents the Perham area, has been at the forefront of this effort, emphasizing the need for bus service to get workers to jobs in Perham.

Perham employers have been trying for months to fill hundreds of open jobs, most of them in manufacturing. Lack of public transportation has been listed as one of the challenges hampering their recruitment efforts.