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Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar EDC awarded $200,000 grant to help ease local child care crisis

In 2022, a First Children's Finance report showed a need for 935 additional child care slots in Kandiyohi County. The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission will use a $200,000 state grant to work with and support current providers, and to encourage new providers.

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Children work on projects at First Step Family Daycare in Willmar in this April 2020 file photo. A $200,000 child care grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development will help the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission in its efforts to support and retain current child care providers and encourage new ones.
Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo
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WILLMAR — The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission received welcome news Thursday when Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced it was the recipient of a $200,000 child care grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“In every community across the state, we hear from families and small businesses that increasing access to affordable child care is the best way to support our workforce, grow our economy and foster economic prosperity,” said Walz in a news release announcing grants to several organizations. “These grants reach communities across our state to help increase child care access and ensure families and our youngest Minnesotans receive the care and early education they deserve.”

It is a well-known fact that child care in Kandiyohi County and the city of Willmar has been a significant issue for several years, and which continues to get worse each year.

A report from the nonprofit First Children’s Finance in June of 2021 showed that there was a need for 651 additional child care slots in Kandiyohi County. The new report this year, which came out in October, showed the number of child care slots needed had risen to 935 — a 44.3% increase in demand.

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“The bulk of that change comes from growing families,” said EDC Business Development Manager Sarah Swedburg at an EDC meeting in October. “There are more children under the age of five in 2022 in most communities (in the county) than there were in 2021. To me, that is a positive thing. … It doesn’t mean the crisis isn’t less, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have our work cut out for us. … Not everybody can boast that they have those growing communities.”

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Swedburg did point out that the numbers were slightly skewed, as the 2021 report included available 68 slots for the Willmar Child Care Center, which was licensed but never actually opened. EDC Executive Director Aaron Backman noted that taking out those 68 child care slots still shows an increase in need of 33.8% in the county.

“What we are seeing is a steady hold on the number of providers we have while our families are growing, which means that we are just running further down the rabbit hole on that issue,” Swedburg commented during a roundtable discussion with Secretary of State Steve Simon in October.

There were 84 family child care providers in Kandiyohi County in 2021, and that dropped to 78 in 2022. The EDC found that a large percentage of the providers in the county are those who have been providing child care for less than five years or those who have been providing child care for more than 20 years.

“Those are the most dangerous places to be, that a family child care provider might not continue on,” said EDC Marketing and Communication Specialist Kelsey Olson at an EDC meeting in October.

She noted that those who have been providing child care for less than five years are typically doing it while their own children are young, and then they stop providing child care once their children start school. Those who have been providing child care for more than 20 years are looking to retire.

“We’re trying to find the balance between not only encouraging new providers, but what are we doing to really support and retain those providers that already exist,” Swedburg said.

Some of the ways in which the EDC is planning to use this grant to tackle the issue of the lack of child care is to continue working with and supporting the providers there are currently; encouraging others to become providers and walking alongside them providing support as they become licensed; working with businesses to encourage them to support child care for their employees; and working with landlords to help them understand that a child care business cannot afford the rent that for-profit businesses would have the ability to pay.

Other issues that play into the crisis of the lack of child care in the county include statutory requirements for day care providers and lack of insurance benefits, which makes working in child care less attractive than other jobs with higher wages and better benefits.

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Tackling the child care crisis in Kandiyohi County will also help with the issue of the workforce shortage.

"We continue to hear that a lack of quality child care is one of the major hurdles preventing the growth of our workforce," said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove in the news release announcing the grants. "This grant program has a direct effect on creating more child care slots for parents across Minnesota. That's why the Governor's Council on Economic Expansion recommended increasing this funding as a key strategy in growing our state's economy and workforce."

A total of $2.5 million was granted to 17 organizations across the state to help increase the supply of quality child care providers in order to support regional economic development, according to the news release.

The community organizations receiving the grants will use a variety of approaches ranging from partnering with local employers to build new child care facilities, to training and assistance with licensing.

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Program funds will be used for child care business startups or expansions, training, facility modifications, direct subsidies or incentives to retain employees, or improvements required for licensing, and assistance with licensing and other regulatory requirements, according to the news release.

Priority was given to communities with a documented shortage of child care providers in their proposed project area.

In addition to the EDC, the following organizations throughout Minnesota received Child Care Economic Development Grants during this latest round of funding:

  • Aitkin County, Aitkin, $100,000 
  • Chinese American Chamber of Commerce, Bloomington, $200,000 
  • City of Hills, Hills, $120,000 
  • Cook County and Grand Marais EDA, Grand Marais, $180,000 
  • Duluth Area Family YMCA, Duluth, $150,000 
  • Faith Community Development Initiative Inc, Brooklyn Park, $75,000 
  • Greater Bemidji, Inc, Bemidji, $200,000 
  • Jasmin Child Care and Preschool, Moorhead, $120,000 
  • Morning Glory Montessori, Minneapolis, $120,000 
  • Nobles County Community Service Agency, Worthington, $150,000 
  • Northland Foundation, Duluth, $250,000 
  • Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Bemidji, $50,000 
  • Otter Tail County, Fergus Falls, $160,000 
  • Somali Community Resettlement Services, Minneapolis, $50,000 
  • Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Owatonna, $200,000 
  • WildFlower Foundation, Minneapolis, $100,000

Since 2017, DEED has awarded more than $4 million to Minnesota organizations focused on increasing access to affordable, quality child care across Minnesota. In total, the funding is expected to create 9,431 new child care slots across the state. Find out more and view a funding map on the Child Care Economic Development Grants page on DEED’s website .

Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: jkotila@wctrib.com or phone at 320-214-4339.
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The Tribune publishes Records as part of its obligation to inform readers about the business of public institutions and to serve as a keeper of the local historical record. All items are written by Tribune staff members based on information contained in public documents from the state court system and from law enforcement agencies. It is the Tribune’s policy that this column contain a complete record. Requests for items to be withheld will not be granted.
The Tribune publishes Records as part of its obligation to inform readers about the business of public institutions and to serve as a keeper of the local historical record. All items are written by Tribune staff members based on information contained in public documents from the state court system and from law enforcement agencies. It is the Tribune’s policy that this column contain a complete record. Requests for items to be withheld will not be granted.