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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely economic growth hinges on daycare options

Keith Vandervort
Posted 5/5/21

ELY – One of the clear and present roadblocks to economic growth in the greater Ely area is the severe shortage of daycare services. Former mayor Ross Petersen was recently empowered by the Ely …

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Ely economic growth hinges on daycare options

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ELY – One of the clear and present roadblocks to economic growth in the greater Ely area is the severe shortage of daycare services. Former mayor Ross Petersen was recently empowered by the Ely Economic Development Authority to spearhead a wide-ranging exploration of potential solutions to the continuing dilemma of attracting a younger, vibrant workforce to the area while a dearth of childcare services here continues.
The move to form a working subcommittee by city council members acting as EEDA commissioners follows recent discussions by the city’s projects committee and the council.
“Ely has a great need for daycare, I think we all know that,” Petersen said last week. “Ely lost over 40 percent of its daycare (providers) during the whole COVID thing. We didn’t have enough before COVID hit. Now there is a huge need for it and it is a huge problem.”
He stressed that young families are needed in Ely to fuel any kind of economic resurgence and growth.
“It is a demographic we need to keep our school going and our community vital,” he said.
Petersen said financial assistance to address the community’s daycare industry from federal, state and county agencies may be in the works, and Ely officials need to be ready. “According to our economic advisor, DEED (Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development) is looking at something, and Commissioner (Paul) McDonald said IRRR is very interested. There is supposed to be federal activity before too long. So, it’s a matter of trying to figure out what we need and what would work for us and get a plan together.”
The former mayor, who was largely credited with pushing Ely’s new library and City Hall renovation into reality, suggested initiating the same kind of community effort to address local daycare needs. Petersen suggested forming a subcommittee to include interested parties, especially those in the local daycare industry, or those who would like be involved in providing more daycare options in the area.
He offered the services of his daughter-in-law, Mandy Petersen, who works for Wilder Foundation.
“She has studied on this before. She has a tremendous amount of information on this,” Petersen said.
“Perhaps we can put ads out there to attract daycare people to be involved. They really know what’s needed. There are a lot of opportunities there,” he said. “We need to move together and put a plan together, so when the money is out there we have a cohesive plan to go after that money.”
Interim Mayor Chuck Novak warned of the difficulty in addressing the childcare issue. “That’s a tough nut to crack in St. Paul or in Washington when you talk about maybe some money to come,” he said. “One of the big difficulties is the rules. They make the rules because of the worst offenders, not the non-offenders.”
He called for a closer look at the regulations and rules, and perhaps a softening of the regulations in rural areas.
“I’m in full support of pursuing this,” he added. “Maybe we can have a forum in chambers to gather those interested in working on this to develop a plan to keep putting pressure on our legislators. We need to identify our needs. How many parents want daycare? How many here aren’t working because they can’t get daycare here? It would be nice to have those metrics to make a solid argument.”
Petersen added, “There are dozens of possible options that we could look at, and that’s why we need to have a committee to gather this kind of information.” He welcomed federal money coming to northern Minnesota to address the daycare dilemma.
Ely Economic Advisor John Fedo warned of the thin profit margins that most daycare operations endure.
“Put unions and wages in the mix, and how can anybody afford good quality daycare? And as the mayor points out, there are all the rules and regulations. That makes it even more difficult. Maybe we want to approach this as a hybrid or non-profit solution that addresses the needs. We might stand a chance if we carve out something unique,” he said. “It wouldn’t be the first time that Ely solved a problem unique to its own approach.”
EEDA members charged Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski to work with Petersen to form a subcommittee to begin discussions and fact-gathering on the issue. The first meeting will be held at 5 p.m. on Monday, May 10, in Council Chambers.

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