Nissan employees in Tennessee use the Hytch Rewards app to earn cash for each mile traveled by carpooling to and from work.

NASHVILLE — Carpooling can help commuters save money, make friends or reduce their carbon footprint. But what if it also could be harnessed for industrial development?

That’s part of the momentum behind Hytch Rewards, an app-based ride-sharing startup that pays participants cash per mile for linking up on their commutes.

The program works when a large employer signs onto the carpool program and funds its rewards pool. Workers who carpool get between 5 and 53 cents per mile traveled.

But it’s no mere feel-good service, says Mark Cleveland, the venture’s CEO.

“Businesses are out there trying to recruit work forces,” Cleveland says. “This is a tool to help them do that by letting them recruit from greater distances.”

Case in point: Onin Staffing, a Birmingham, Ala., supplier of temporary workers to automotive plants around the South. Onin has 13,000 workers on its payroll, says CEO Hugh Thomas. He jumped at the chance to participate in Hytch because it can help him fill job openings, Thomas says.

“There is a whole lot of automotive industry around here, and they need a lot of people,” he says. “But it gets tougher and tougher to recruit workers.”

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Thomas says he has talked to his clients around the region to get them to participate, too.

Manufacturers might look within eight miles of their plant to fill positions. When that proves inadequate, the search might go to 10 miles, or 15 miles, or 25 miles.

“The issue is that somebody considering a job might find it hard to justify commuting 40 or 50 miles each way to a job,” Thomas says. “They might prefer to stay closer to home, even if they won’t earn as much money, just because the commute is too difficult or too expensive.

“So what if we can suddenly provide a cash reward to cover that drive?” he asks. “It becomes an incentive to commute.”

Cleveland: Help in recruiting

Encouraging carpooling also addresses some of the overlooked challenges of recruiting hourly labor forces, Thomas says. A factory job candidate might be a young person who doesn’t own a vehicle, or a person whose vehicle is unreliable.

Carpooling has the added benefit of helping young or new workers develop the discipline of getting to work on time, Cleveland says, because riders rely on each other to earn the cash.

He says, “Money is a great motivator to getting people to work on time.”