From her positions as a professor of public administration in the Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration and executive director of the William and Barbara Leonard Transportation Center (LTC), Kimberly Collins sees the potential for Inland Empire students in earning a Cal State San Bernardino degree in the field of supply chain, logistics and transportation management.
And the LTC has an ongoing and vital role to play in this area of study.
“We’re small, we’re scrappy, we’re building,” she says about the LTC. “I’m hopeful about the future.” That future is composed of a wide number and a variety of moving parts. And Collins is aware of all of them, looking for the ways that they intersect and interact.
The LTC is named after William E. and Barbara Leonard, San Bernardino residents, business owners and philanthropists. It recognizes that the IE is a key strand in the Southern California Logistics Corridor, the largest concentration of logistics facilities in the Americas. The corridor stretches from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to the IE.
The LTC holds a Department of Transportation Designation as one of 18 Beyond Traffic Innovation Centers across the U.S. “whose main focus will be addressing and providing solutions for transportation issues facing Southern California.” It engages with area high schools through its Pathway to Logistics program, directing students to majors in the Jack H. Brown College, which can prepare them for a future in the Inland Empire’s swiftly growing transportation logistics industry.
Collins’ approach with this huge effort (huge not least because of the IE’s geographical size) is systemic. “I am a public administration professor,” she says. “I come at it from that perspective: how does the public work with the private sector to create solutions?”
A place to start is with the basic concept of mobility, which includes public transit. Transit equity, for example, was greatly impacted in the IE by the COVID pandemic. This then expands to studying the beginning of the transition to electric heavy-duty vehicles, and the question of how business and independent operators can make that transition. Equity plays a role here as well.
The questions that are asked as part of any planning exercise, Collins observes, have a direct impact on the results. For example, when you only plan for personal vehicles on the road, then that is what the system is going to have: personal vehicles on the road. But these questions need to expand to include considerations for both equity and sustainability.
The research uses big data analysis, which Collins views as part of the future of government. In fact, the associate director of the LTC, Yunfei Hou, comes from the computer science department. This type of analysis needs to be combined with a dive into the local implications of the policies mandated by the state government in Sacramento.
To bring the public and private sectors, along with the local community, together, the LTC is on its sixth year of hosting a dialogue series. Upcoming topics include bringing in the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority to discuss hydrogen as a fuel; the city of Pasadena, which has its own utility, to discuss EV chargers; the president of Southern California Association of Governments to share a regional perspective; and future guests to talk about land use.
Collins emphasizes that this needs to be a conversation, which is precisely why these LTC events are known as “dialogues.” The LTC’s Advisory Council considers these part of the center’s focus and is currently considering what a special annual event might look like.
Collins is part of the Inland Southern California Climate Collaborative, which is asking: how is this region going to be resilient? Where does resiliency begin to be built into the system? Higher education has a key role to play in helping to answer these questions.
“I see our role as a center in the IE to help with regional development, to help this community become better,” she says. She observes that the region has a concentration of smart people and great students who are ready to contribute and asks, how can that be harnessed?
The center itself does not have any direct classes attached to it and is much more multi-disciplinary in focus than other campus centers. So Collins knows that the LTC needs to take a different path. What she remains grateful for is the trust the center has of the Leonard family. “We’re working off of that,” she states.
As the LTC has become better known locally, regionally and statewide, this increases the impact it can have. “Sacramento knows that we’re here; they’ve been here to see us,” she says. Collins is enthusiastic about expanding the number of postdocs and research fellows to support the overwhelming need to study transportation and logistics here in the IE.
“My own personal research agenda,” she says, “is asking this specific question: How are local governments going to meet the challenges of the 21st century?” This is a time of change, and local communities across the IE are trying to figure out what their role is in that change.
“Universities can provide an arena, a voice, an input and an area for debate,” she says. “For example, local discussion is taking place about the transportation warehouse sector. A lot of initiative is occurring to figure out the best way forward. CSUSB can play a stronger role by helping to focus these different initiatives and bringing students and faculty in to figure out what the community impacts are.”
Collins sees an advantage at being at a CSU campus to pursue these issues. “CSUs are close to the community – closer than most of the UCs,” she says. “We do more community-based, integrated or applied research.”
One of the biggest challenges, Collins says with a wry chuckle, is that “we don’t fully understand how things work now. And we are watching incredibly fast changes in the IE, from open farmland to housing or warehousing or transportation facilities.” Some of what is driving this change is local, but some of these pressures come from outside.
For example, homes need to be built to meet the region’s housing demands. And that creates mobility issues. The demand for housing has only increased as the result of the pandemic, which has allowed Los Angelenos to move further east for a more affordable and better quality of life.
Local communities are trying to find their way. “And the LTC can be a part of assisting that search,” Collins says. “I don’t want to sound like a Pollyanna, but through applied research and getting our students involved in the discussion, we can help. We can make a difference right here and right now.”
Collins circles back around to the role that the LTC can play through all of this.
“Dialogue,” she says. “Bringing the data, getting the public and the private sector together to talk, and opening the doors to community residents to hear that discussion. Talking with one another. That is how we move things forward. And that is how we build a more sustainable IE for the future.”