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Childcare: Can Iowa Win the Competition?

Posted on Wednesday, December 4th, 2019

At a recent IDM Advisory Board meeting, we asked our board members to share some of the issues and trends they are seeing that affect economic development across the state. Among the responses was the availability and affordability of childcare. All agreed that childcare issues can stagnate business growth by limiting workforce availability. Board member Kiley Miller feels that this could be the issue where Iowa stands out from other states in the race for talent. Given all of the other things that states do to attract talent, he thinks that Iowa could “be the state that wins this competition.” Fully tackling these issues will take federal and state resources and action, but local community stakeholders can play a big role in helping Iowa become the “state that wins.”

How can economic developers help? As local stakeholders, economic developers are true catalysts; they are strategists who build relationships and networks in order to serve as a liaison between needs and solutions – for businesses and communities. As the need for workers and population in general escalates across the state, the need for childcare has become an economic and community development issue to solve. Economic developers will sense the issue early on through business and community engagements and can use the same skills they use for business and community development to support childcare development: analyze the situation by identifying assets, weaknesses and gaps; convene the right people to determine what it is that needs to be done; research and identify useful/available resources and best practices; and facilitate a plan of action to get it done.  

In researching this article, IDM spoke with Alissa O’Connor, Director of Humboldt County Development Association, whose organization went all-in on childcare over the past three years. BR&E visits elevated the issue of childcare for the organization and they soon found themselves taking a lead role in a childcare center development project. They analyzed the situation through studies from the Iowa Women’s Foundation and their own surveys; convened city and county government leaders, the school district and the county hospital who decided that a center was needed; researched what other communities were doing (took a bus tour of other centers), identified resources including a USDA loan, and hired a bond counsel; and facilitated the whole process through to completion! They were truly all-in, taking time, energy and talent to help the community see childcare not as an amenity, but as infrastructure; forming a nonprofit to run the center; developing and arranging the funding (loans, bonds, fundraising); overseeing construction; and getting the center up and running. The center has been open for just over a year now, and Alissa reports that the economic development organization has been able to step away from the project and refocus on other priorities. Obviously, not every economic development organization could (or should) get as deeply involved as Humboldt County Development Association, but they found themselves in a situation where their leadership and involvement was necessary in order to get the results their businesses and communities needed.

The Greater Dubuque Development Corporation became involved in childcare when the lack of qualified childcare workers led to the closure of 60 licensed childcare providers (over 800) within five years. The shortage began to affect participation in high demand areas of the workforce - and the high cost of care was affecting participation in their key workforce training program, Opportunity Dubuque. Opportunity Dubuque is a collaborative job training program designed to meet the needs of Dubuque area employers. It is an initiative of Greater Dubuque’s ​Dubuque Works, which is a partnership of employers, funders, workforce experts, government, and educators convened by Greater Dubuque. Dubuque Works funds the training program for jobs in high-demand areas through Northeast Iowa Community College where program participants achieve industry-driven certifications to learn new skills.

To address the lack of childcare workers and slots affecting participation in the workforce and the high cost of care affecting participants in the Opportunity Dubuque program, two strategies were identified by Dubuque Works. One, the Opportunity Dubuque program was expanded to include training and certification for childcare workers and two, childcare assistance was provided as needed to all Opportunity Dubuque participants while in training and for one year after graduation. Check out this brief video to learn more about the program, or contact Kristin Dietzel, Vice President of Workforce Solutions for Greater Dubuque Development.  

If your EDO is considering solutions for childcare issues in your community, Iowa CCR&R has great community and employer pages that offer many resources and best practices to help advocate for, expand and support childcare within Iowa communities. From quantifying local childcare needs to sponsoring childcare provider recruitment events, community leaders can utilize CCR&R and its resources to help them research and identify solutions for childcare issues specific to their needs. [Read more about the cost and availability of childcare in Iowa]