There's been grumbling in recent years as transit and transit-related development have boomed in the west metro but have been less robust in the east.
Organizers of a group calling itself East Metro Strong say they have the answer: We need to work as a team instead of working against each other.
"If you live on the east side of the metro area, you see very few cranes in comparison to the west side. It's not because the east metro doesn't have good properties or opportunities for development. So what's going on then? What's the missing puzzle piece?" said Ryan O'Connor, Ramsey County's director of policy analysis and planning.
"It's the unified vision of how transit, available properties, development ... how that all comes together under one umbrella."
East Metro Strong is a proposed planning consortium for development focused on transit and jobs in Ramsey, Washington and Dakota counties. It's the result of a McKnight Foundation grant opportunity, for which the plan is a finalist, O'Connor said.
O'Connor and other organizers presented the proposal to the Washington County board of commissioners for the second time Tuesday, seeking the county's participation. Having each of the east metro counties involved is crucial to the proposal, organizers say.
McKnight's "Moving the Market" grant program sought competitive proposals that addressed the question: "How can private and public investment and activities be harnessed to benefit low-income people and communities?"
The winner of the $750,000 grant is expected to be announced within a month.
East Metro Strong aims to pull together an executive committee of key players -- local governments, chambers of commerce, community groups and developers -- to craft regional development priorities that align with regional transit plans.
"Really, it's related to providing access to jobs and job centers," said Zach Schwartz, manager of public affairs and transportation for the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. "That's the direction this initiative would go."
Stakeholders can no longer be "unwilling to recognize the connectivity of it all," said Ramsey County's O'Connor.
"There's a limited amount of funding ... and you can't build four (transit) lines at once," he said. "The regional vision is important because we need to figure out ... which are the ones that benefit people the most? Those are the ones we need to develop first. How do these all tie in and what does that mean for our decision-making?"
If East Metro Strong gets the McKnight grant, other foundations have agreed to match the funding, O'Connor said. The grant, donations and local government in-kind support would amount to about $2 million.
The money would be used first to pay for an executive director and a physical space for East Metro Strong committee meetings. From there, group members would look for ways to gather stakeholders and create outreach activities.
"We would pull this small group together and ask as the first question, 'Who needs to be at the table who isn't here today?' " O'Connor said.
Although other organizations are working on transit-centered development in the east metro, those entities work in "an individual fashion with more individualized goals," according to Schwartz of the St. Paul chamber. Those individual goals may not play to the broader regional benefit.
There's also a lack of much private-public collaboration in the early stages, Schwartz said.
"The idea here is, you have a body that can bring together the interests of each of the stakeholders, communities and businesses," Schwartz said.
He continued, "You would have an agreed-upon set of priorities that would help the east metro focus on what benefits all folks instead of competing against one another for that pool of resources. In the future, it could help guide the Metropolitan Council (which guides regional transit plans and funds) to better understand what the east metro needs and desires are for their role in transit planning."