Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

We’re looking to address the childcare shortage

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I’ve written a lot over the years about quality of life in our communities here in the North Country. To me, the best way to build a sustainable and successful local economy is to make your small town a highly desirable place to live. Creative people, who are great additions to any community, will find a way to make a living in a place they truly want to be.

Our communities already have a number of outstanding assets that attract people here, but there isn’t one place that still doesn’t face some challenges. As we’ve learned in recent months, the lack of dependable licensed childcare is a critical challenge for parents in Tower-Soudan.

If you’re not a parent of young children, it’s easy to underestimate just how critical such a service can be. Those of us over age 50 probably still remember what it was like in the 1960s and 70s, when women often stayed at home to take care of the kids. Those days are long gone. It’s especially tough for the single-parent families, particularly for those parents without a strong and supportive network of family and friends in the community. Having a regular and affordable place to leave children, where you know they’ll be safe and appropriately stimulated, is an incredible resource for so many parents.

We heard that loud and clear from a recent online survey conducted by the Tower-Soudan Community Development Corporation and the Tower Economic Development Authority, both of which are working together to find solutions to the challenge. Already dozens of parents have indicated that they need regular childcare services, immediately. Some said the challenge is so serious, it’s prompted them to think of moving elsewhere, which is an outcome we’re hoping to prevent.

The lack of childcare is one of those systemic problems that can affect many other aspects of the community. Take school enrollment, for example. While the Tower-Soudan area continues to experience growth in the numbers of young children, school enrollment has been falling at the elementary school, and the lack of childcare is part of the reason why. Without existing options in Tower-Soudan, many working parents have opted to place their kids in daycare facilities in the communities where they work. And as they do that, their kids make friends with kids from those other communities and the parents start to meet their parents and expand their social network in those other places. That’s not a bad thing on its own, but it has harmful ramifications for communities that lack childcare options. When it comes time to enroll your young children in school, it’s easier to look outside the community when your children already have established friendships there and you know other parents there. On the other hand, when parents have childcare options close to home, it’s much more likely that they’ll utilize the local schools as well. In other words, having such critical services available for parents not only makes their lives less stressful, it helps the local school. That in turn helps your community’s real estate market and local businesses. It’s how addressing quality of life concerns strengthens your community.

While a long-term plan to establish reliable childcare may include the creation of an actual daycare center in Tower-Soudan, in the shorter term, we’re hoping to recruit two or three local parents willing to explore opening a family-style childcare facility in their home. From the feedback we’ve received from our recent survey, there are dozens of local parents seeking a good childcare solution and we have their contact information. Most are looking for full-time, year-round solutions, and that makes the business side of running a home daycare that much easier. We are also willing to help prospective childcare operators get the technical help they need to become home-based social entrepreneurs. We recognize that becoming a successful business owner requires a certain skill set, but they are skills that are easily learned and there are organizations, like the Northeast Entrepreneur Fund, that exist just for that reason.

For parents of young children in the Tower-Soudan area who are looking for childcare solutions, let us know your needs. You can still participate in our online survey by clicking the link on the TowerMn Facebook page. The survey takes less than three minutes to complete. If you’re seriously looking for a local childcare provider, provide us your contact information and we’ll let you know as soon as providers become available. Let’s work together to address this community need.

Marshall Helmberger is board chair of the TSCDC and a board member of TEDA.

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