As part of NWBC’s #LetsTalkBusiness Roundtable Series, the Rural Women’s Entrepreneurship Subcommittee hosted a virtual roundtable on May 27, 2020, to explore the far-reaching impact of childcare availability and affordability, particularly barriers posed for women business owners and entrepreneurs.
NWBC Chair Liz Sara opened the conversation with an overview of the Council’s mission and its key focus areas. She then passed the torch to Council Member and Subcommittee Chair Jess Flynn, who shared the successes of the 2019 Women in Small Business Series and the insights received during discussions in Nampa, ID and Pella, IA. She noted the detriments of childcare deserts in both areas, which drove high rates of necessity entrepreneurship and crippling workforce shortages for local employers.
Council Member Rebecca Hamilton then shared some perspectives from Badger, her organic skincare products company based in Gilsum, NH. Her largely female manufacturing team benefits from an on-site childcare center that Hamilton says is worthwhile to support her team but not financially sustainable in the long run without support from the government.
A representative from an Iowa-based manufacturing company also operating its own childcare and early education center explained how the business filled a local void for those hesitant to utilize home-based care facilities. The firm eventually received a state grant and interest free loan due to their community investment, but growth is still a challenge due to shortages in staff and teacher recruitment. Council Member Barb Kniff McCulla noted that Iowa loses $153 million annually in tax revenue due to a lack of childcare and that 69% of parents rely on family members for childcare. She stressed a need to identify local best practices and make them available to other states.
The founder and president of a Michigan-based childcare facility highlighted the exorbitant costs to operate and pointed to real estate and heavy regulatory burdens as the biggest drivers. Parents and families are then faced with skyrocketing prices. The head of a digital talent marketplace noted that the burden to secure childcare sits largely with moms and lamented that many will barely break even after footing the bill and must make the difficult decision to exit the workforce.
Dr. Laurie Todd-Smith, Director of the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau underscored the scope of the issue noting that there are 24 million workers with school age children and 17.5 million workers with children under the age of six. She shared several federal initiatives including a database with the cost of childcare by county and efforts to tweak regulations that hinder employer’s ability to offer childcare benefits.
Multiple participants expressed concerns about the childcare industry’s resiliency after the COVID-19 pandemic and reiterated a need for holistic solutions involving state and federal government, community businesses, and parents.
The feedback received during this discussion will serve as a springboard for the Council’s FY 2020 policy recommendations to Congress, the President, and the Administrator of the Small Business Administration. NWBC thanks all participants for their open and honest candor.