Guest column: Groups working on child care shortage

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, November 8, 2022

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Guest column by Noelle Hagen

One of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce’s committees is the Chamber Business Education Collaborative (CBEC). As introduced in August, the CBEC will be sharing information monthly with readers that will include the career fields within our community, future trends within these industries, and information about education, wages and growth within these fields. It is our goal to increase awareness on the amazing career fields and careers right here in our county. We hope to educate the readers on what types of skills and education are needed for those career types in hopes of helping local employers fill vacant positions and strengthening our local workforce.

Noelle Hagen

When considering the key components to attracting and retaining a quality workforce for the businesses in Albert Lea and Freeborn County there are a few things that stand out as top priority — housing, health care and child care. For an employee who has a family, the availability of child care that is affordable, safe and high quality is extremely important. 

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For several years, there has been much talk about the need for increased child care availability — not just in Albert Lea but across all of Greater Minnesota. Many different factors have led to decreased child care availability, such as retirement of existing in-home/family child care providers, less interest in new family child care startups and increased difficulty to retain child care workers in child care centers. The economics of child care are difficult as well. Child care providers are not subsidized or funded by the state or federal government, so there is a fine balance between child care providers charging enough money to be open and hire the needed caretakers and still be affordable enough for families to attend. 

In talking with businesses in our community, we continue to see the child care shortage as an issue in hiring and retaining employees. By increasing available child care, we hope to help more families be fully engaged in the workforce. To address this issue, we have partnered with a consultant available to us through Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. Jeff Andrews will be leading us through a series of planning sessions to help us understand what the need is and how to best address it. We are in early stages of this planning process and have engaged the city of Albert Lea, Freeborn County, Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce and Albert Lea Area Schools to be a part of the lead team. As we further our understanding and start exploring opportunities, we will be bringing in additional agencies and businesses who want to be a part of the solutions brought forth to address the shortage. We are hoping that by engaging in this “whole community approach” we can formulate a sustainable plan that uses resources efficiently to create a positive impact on the need of childcare in the community.

Lastly — but most importantly — we would like to recognize and thank all of our child care providers in the community. The women and men working in in-home/family child care, child care centers, preschools, early education classes, etc. are a very important part of our community. They are caring for the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society, and they do so every day with love, care and kindness. We truly appreciate all the child care providers and applaud you for the work you are doing. 

If you are interested in starting your own in home child care business, we still have grants available to assist in your start up costs! Eligible child care providers can apply for up to $2,000 to assist with the cost of starting a new child care business including licensing, equipment, supplies, toys, safety equipment, etc. To apply, contact Noelle Hagen at Albert Lea Economic Development Agency or ask Brady Engelby, the family child care licensor for Freeborn and Mower counties, when applying to start a child care business. 

Noelle Hagen is a member of the Chamber Business Education Committee and assistant executive director of Albert Lea Economic Development Agency.