The Bend Chamber of Commerce has a plan to spur investment in child care businesses by framing them as critical infrastructure in Oregon’s fastest-growing region. This week the chamber announced it hired Megan Norris as the Central Oregon child care accelerator, a position designed to help create more child care businesses in the region.
Surveys have shown Central Oregon families spend more on child care than housing. Others get on waiting lists for day care before they even have kids. Yet, day care businesses are slow to meet the boom in demand. Three out of four working parents surveyed by the Bend Chamber of Commerce last year said it was very difficult to find quality providers, leading to absenteeism and high turnover in the workforce.
Bend Chamber CEO Katy Brooks was recently appointed to the state’s Early Learning Council, an advisory group on early childhood program policy. She sat down with OPB to answer questions about the business of child care.
Emily Cureton: Child care businesses are definitely in demand. Why aren’t more of them opening?
Katy Brooks: Three things really make or break a child care facility: capital, land and labor. Do I have enough capital to make this happen? That directly relates to, do I lease and make tenant improvements, can I afford that, or can I afford my own land? The other issue is the labor costs.
That’s why child care is so unaffordable, because all of those elements of running that business are really expensive. It’s also a reflection on what’s happening out in the marketplace.
For example, in Bend, I think we have about a 3% occupancy rate with commercial property. Think about how hard that is to go to a landlord and say, “Hey … I’d like to put a bunch of kiddos in there and start a child care company on your property,” compared to, “Hey, I have the tech company. I have a staff of 20 or 30 people and we’d like to start tomorrow.” It’s a tough call when you’re a landlord.
Cureton: How has the Bend Chamber been helping child care businesses overcome these barriers?
Brooks: We are hiring somebody called a child care accelerator. They’re a broker who works between landowners and investors to try and find a blended way to fund more child care, to come up with a pilot that’s replicable. A blended approach for funding, in another person’s vernacular, would be subsidized — because some point of opening a child care facility has to pencil out.
[We are] partnering with Oregon State University-Cascades and Central Oregon Community College in coming up with an operational plan that can be duplicated throughout the region. That lowers the costs because they are spread across the region. It will also identify some opportunities and land that would work for this idea.
Cureton: Historically, child care has been marginalized as a women’s issue. How does it move into being a priority for the business community?
Brooks: I think these social issues are tightly tied to how well we do as a state doing business. It’s great to be able to come up with a solution that is entrepreneurial in its approach … even if it’s complex. It’s something we hope is a pilot that the rest of the state can look at to say, “Look what happens when a bunch of people come together and say this is a shared problem. Let’s collectively do something about it.”