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Lack of daycare delaying industry expansion

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A lack of daycare is hindering economic growth in Mitchell County.

Mitchell County Supervisor Jim Wherry recently attended a local industry meeting regarding Osage businesses Fox River Mills, RR Donnelley and A to Z Drying. Wherry reported there is a daycare shortage in Mitchell County, and that these local industries are exploring a 50-50 matching daycare grant offered by the State of Iowa.

Jim Wherry

Mitchell County Supervisor Jim Wherry.

“There are 3.4 kids for every one slot that is available in daycares,” Wherry said at the June 14 Mitchell County Board of Supervisors meeting.

According to Wherry, there are two separate grants within the larger Iowa grant. One is a $20 million grant with a $3 million cap and a $1.5 million commitment. The other part is a $5 million grant with a $250,000 cap and a $125,000 commitment.

According to Iowa.gov, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the Child Care Business Incentive Grant Program on May 18. The $20 million will support local infrastructure investments to build or expand childcare capacity, and the $5 million will be used to support arrangements between employers and existing childcare centers to create new childcare slots paid for by the local employer.

There also must be a plan for sustainability. The grant timeline is short, beginning June 17 and ending July 18.

The daycare problem is statewide. According to Iowa.gov, Iowa has lost 33 percent of its childcare businesses over the past five years, costing the State’s economy nearly $1 billion in lost tax revenue, worker absences and employee turnover.

In the Iowa.gov press release, Reynolds is quoted as saying, “I’ve heard from both parents and employers that childcare is a barrier to work in our state.”

According to Wherry, Fox River Mills is in an expansion hiring freeze due to the lack of housing and daycare in Mitchell County.

“They want to do expansion, but… they can expand and nobody will come here for work because they don’t have a place to live or a place for their kids to stay,” Wherry said. “So it’s a tough situation. Those three entities (Fox River Mills, RR Donnelley and A to Z Drying) are looking at trying to make this happen.

“I’m not really sure if there is a government role involved with this. Even one industry might not be big enough to apply for this, that’s why the three of them are getting together.”

According to Wherry, one local daycare needs six more staff members to fill the need of five children in each room. With wages often under $10 an hour, even employees well suited for the job cannot afford to work at a daycare. Turnover is high. Workers committed to the mission of daycares are a saving grace.

“They’re (staying) simply because there’s no one to take their place,” Wherry said of these aging employees. “And they’re just so dedicated to these babies they’re staying because of that.”

Supervisor Mike Mayer asked hypothetically if daycares could apply for grants to assist in employment needs.

“It goes along with economic development,” said St. Ansgar Mayor Keith Horgen. “Private industry as well as county government should be involved in it as well.”

Wherry replied that he had considered whether there is a role for the Board of Supervisors.

“How many jobs are you going to create by us putting money into (the industries’) plan here?” Wherry asked. “Anytime we use money I look at it as an investment. What can we get back out of it? I don’t want to just give money.

“More jobs mean more people living in the county, more people in the schools. It’s that trickledown.”

“I don’t think any of the daycares are full of kids,” Mayer said. “They’re just short on employees. So building onto the daycare isn’t the solution either because then you’ll just have empty buildings. The wages (are most important).”

Jason W. Selby is the community editor for the Mitchell Country Press News. He can be reached at 515-971-6217, or by email at jason.selby@globegazette.com.

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