Wells uses SMIF grant to create new initiatives to tackle child care shortage

Published 8:51 pm Wednesday, October 23, 2019

WELLS — The need for child care providers is a problem throughout the state, and communities like Wells are tackling the situation with creative initiatives to encourage those who would like to start their own day care business.

Wells administrative assistant Tiffany Schrader has been working on the issue ever since she started her position with the city over two years ago. Working closely with the Wells Economic Development Authority, Schrader applied for the Communities Addressing the Child Care Shortage grant through Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

Schrader said she created a core team of people to work with her throughout the grant process, including representatives from the Wells EDA, Faribault County Economic Development Authority, United South Central Public Schools, United South Central School Board, Wells City Council, Wells Area Chamber of Commerce and the county child care licensor.

The group has created two initiatives to promote the creation of new child care openings: a forgivable loan program and a rentable space that could be utilized for a day care.

Schrader said the forgivable loan program is simple.

“We are offering a loan of up to $3,000 for anyone who is opening a new child care business or expanding their current child care business,” Schrader said. “The biggest stipulation is that the person must be creating new child care slots. Every year $1,000 of the loan is forgiven as long as the child care business is still up and running, so essentially if the person stays in business for three years, the entire loan is forgiven.”

She said the funds can be used for licensing fees, training fees, supplies or structural changes that need to be made to the provider’s home in order to meet licensing requirements.

The second initiative was to provide a rentable space where someone could run a day care.

Schrader said the group realized there may be people interested in running a child care business but were turned off at the idea of bringing the business into their home.

“CCF Bank in Wells has a large portion of their building that they are no longer utilizing, and after taking a tour of that building with the county licensor, as well as having the fire marshal come in and inspect it, we realized it would actually be quite fitting for a family child care business.”

Schrader said there are a few changes that need to be made to make the space work, including creating an outdoor play area.

“We have a plan for this and will use some of the grant funds to pay for it,” Schrader said. “Our biggest hurdle now is finding someone who wants to rent the space, so we are currently advertising to find someone who is interested.”

Rae Jean Hansen, SMIF’s vice president of early childhood, said Wells’ initial application for grant funds stood out for many reasons.

It has a shortage of 102 slots, which is significant for the size of the community, Hansen said.

She also noted Schrader’s team had already identified a need for child care in the community, had a community-wide meeting to discuss the problem and had a good core team from a variety of sectors in the community.

As a result, Wells was awarded $10,000 by the foundation as well as technical assistance from the SMIF and First Children’s Finance to help Wells come up with an action plan for the community, but Schrader acknowledged these funds could be depleted quickly. So does the Wells EDA.

“Giving out up to $3,000 per loan application would have $10,000 gone pretty quickly, so the EDA plans to continue to fund this program once the SMIF funds have run out,” Schrader said.  “The EDA has not set a specific dollar amount that they intend to put forth towards child care, but they are committed to assisting in the creation of more child care slots in Wells.”

The opportunity is not just open to Wells residents either.

“A person could definitely reside outside of town and use the space at CCF,” Schrader said.  “With USC being a school of several combined towns, someone wanting to come in from one of those towns wouldn’t surprise me at all and would be completely acceptable.”

Anyone interested in applying for one of the initiatives can contact Schrader at tschrader@cityofwells.net.