Wisconsin employers look to build child care solutions

LA CROSSE, Wis. — Employers in western Wisconsin hope improving access to child care in rural communities will help build the local workforce.

Organic Valley and Vernon Memorial Healthcare are among the groups working to create a shared services network for Vernon County child care providers that could launch early next year, Wisconsin Public Radio reported . The project received an almost $400,000 grant from the Medical College of Wisconsin in November 2017.

The network aims to help child care programs through support services and cost sharing. The network will also create a relief squad that can act as backup staff if a provider becomes unavailable, said Ruth Schmidt, the executive director of the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, which is helping lead the project.

Chris Hardie, the executive director of economic development agency The 7 Rivers Alliance, said a survey the agency conducted found that child care is one of the biggest challenges businesses in the region face.

"The lack of child care is keeping people out of the workforce or forcing them to work part time and that keeps the challenge of finding workers even greater than it is," Hardie said.

The survey of regional businesses executives found 53 percent of respondents willing to subsidize child care for employees if it would guarantee their availability.

Hardie said employers are beginning to view child care resources as a recruitment tool.

"The first question that somebody has if they're going to move to this region after they're offered a job is, what's the availability of child care? And if you're an employer and can't answer that or don't have a good answer for that, it doesn't give you an advantage when it comes to recruiting that person," Hardie said.