Albert Lea selected for child care shortage program

Published 8:32 pm Monday, February 25, 2019

The Albert Lea Economic Development Agency has been selected to participate in a program meant to address child care needs.

ALEDA is one of five southern Minnesota entities working with Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation for six to 18 months to develop individualized action plans to address local child care needs through a program titled Communities Addressing the Child Care Shortage.

Selections were made based on shortage numbers, core team participation and community readiness, the release states.

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Some of the nearly 15 participants in the Freeborn County core team reportedly include Assistant Albert Lea City Manager Jerry Gabrielatos, Freeborn County Administrator Thomas Jensen, Freeborn County commissioners Glen Mathiason and Chris Shoff, United Way of Freeborn County Executive Director Ann Austin, employers, child care providers and other stakeholders.

ALEDA Executive Director Phillip Johnson noted the group met last month and will meet again Tuesday.

Johnson noted it is important to have stakeholders from multiple industries participate.

“It encompasses the city and county pretty wholly,” he said.

Albert Lea is reportedly short 315 child care slots.

To Johnson, the local child care shortage is an issue that can prevent keeping employees in the community and attracting them to the area.

He expressed hope that needs will be addressed by the group.

“From that perspective, I think we have a great opportunity here to develop a plan,” Johnson said.

According to the release, “child care is an economic driver for communities in greater Minnesota, and child care shortages have a dramatic impact on families and the local economy. Recent research shows that in the Initiative Foundation’s region, there is a potential need of 8,919 licensed child care slots. When families cannot find child care, they are unable to fully participate in the workforce and may eventually leave the area in pursuit of other opportunities.”

Other entities participating include United Way of Mower County, short 847 slots; the city of Eagle Lake, short 107 slots; Watonwan County Early Childhood Initiative, short 337 slots; and the city of Wells, short 102 slots.

More than a dozen entities from the Initiative Foundation’s 20-county region reportedly submitted applications to participate.

After completing the process, the communities will be eligible for competitive grants of up to $10,000 to support the implementation of the plans.

The program is partially funded by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the child care shortage,” said Initiative Foundation Early Childhood Director Teri Steckelberg. “We look forward to sitting down with each core team to develop a plan that is best suited for their unique needs.”

Shoff noted child care is an issue that spans a large area.

“It’s a need in the community,” he said. “We’re not alone in that in Greater Minnesota.”

He noted the Rural Impact County Challenge Committee brings community groups together to address issues that affect all community facets and that a child care program at First Lutheran Church started last fall was the inspiration of the Rev. Sean Forde, who attended a committee meeting.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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