ELY – A newly-formed community committee, spearheaded by former mayor Ross Petersen, is looking to bulldoze through the economic development roadblock here to address the severe daycare …
ELY – A newly-formed community committee, spearheaded by former mayor Ross Petersen, is looking to bulldoze through the economic development roadblock here to address the severe daycare shortage.
With upcoming deadlines for possible federal and state funding, local daycare advocates met twice last week and again on Monday night to formulate a plan to present to officials. “We want to hear from anybody and everybody interested in starting a daycare operation in town,” Petersen said.
Petersen was empowered by the Ely Economic Development Authority to form a wide-ranging exploration of potential solutions to the continuing dilemma of attracting a younger, vibrant workforce to the area with a need for daycare providers. “Ely lost over 40 percent of its daycare (providers) during the whole COVID thing. We didn’t have enough (daycare services) before COVID hit. Now there is a huge need for it and it is a huge problem,” he said.
Petersen said financial assistance from federal, state and county agencies could be in the works and listed the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation, Northland Foundation, and others. “This is a matter of trying to figure out what we need and what would work for us and get a plan together,” he said.
Recent conversations with Northland Foundation officials, including President Tony Sertich and Vice President/KIDS PLUS Director Lynn Haglin revealed the organization has recently focused efforts on providing answers to the daycare dilemma in the region. “They are working with other organizations and have some real assets for us,” Petersen said.
A “SWAT Team” approach by the Northland Foundation, according to Petersen, is available to help a specific community figure out the daycare need and possible solutions, such as funding. “We hope to get those resources working for us,” he said.
Several potential ideas that have already been utilized around northeastern Minnesota emerged from the local meetings last week:
Funding for certification and other daycare startup costs,
Additional funding for daycare operations from government sources,
Building or renovating an existing facility that could be government-owned and leased to a qualifying daycare provider,
Other start-up financial assistance including free land, free utility hook-ups, or low-interest loans,
Converting the $300 weekly supplemental unemployment to subsidize daycare for people who go back to work.
“It all comes down to the fact that we need people to provide daycare in our community, “Petersen said. He highlighted the government funds available for starting and maintaining daycare centers. “There is money for (community daycare) centers. There is money for people who want to start a home daycare. If we don’t have anybody who is available to run them, there is no sense in building something.”
Two potential Ely-area daycare providers, Nick Holtz and Jane Dandron, attended an earlier daycare brainstorming session. “Last week, we talked about the potential for a daycare center in Ely, but they have since indicated that such an operation would be too big for them,” Petersen said.
Mandy Petersen, Ross’s daughter-in-law who works for the Wilder Foundation and continues to explore challenges and opportunities related to day- care, said, “There are things that licensers will be flexible about, and things they won’t, but that remains a big hurdle (for any daycare operation).”
Daycare centers are typically set up to handle as many as 25 children, including infants, toddler, and preschool-age, and to provide all of the services associated with childcare.
According to Heidi Omerza, Ely Economic Development Authority president, the Ely community has just three daycare providers in operation, able to handle up to 14 children each. “The (daycare) deficit is much bigger than we thought it was at first,” she said. “We need to reach out to the current daycare providers and let them know we are not here to step on anybody’s toes. We are here to help everyone.”
She welcomed the Northland Foundation’s daycare “SWAT Team” to provide immediate help to the Ely area. “We need to make sure that for anyone who is interested (in providing daycare services), we are here. And whatever people want to do, the answer is ‘yes.’ We are to assist people to do what they want to do,” she said.
St. Louis County Commissioner Paul McDonald added, “If you add in the Tower and Babbitt areas, we need facilities to service as many as 100 children. That gap of being able to meet people’s needs is getting worse. On any main street, the ‘help wanted’ sign is the most popular. We want to make sure that we are looking at the big picture. We have to look at Tower’s needs, Babbitt’s needs, etc. For a lot of those people, there is nothing there. The idea of a daycare center would be able to accommodate more people and more staff. With the timing of the resources out there, now is when we have to look at this.”
McDonald related conversations on Monday with the offices of Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar. “They highly recommend that we put in requests for budget earmark funding,” he said. “They will help us in any way they can. That deadline is May 21.”
Plans for adventure school for kids
A local couple is making an effort to at least fill an immediate need for child care and education this summer with the Ely Adventure School.
Benjamin Perry “Sunshine” Gardner and Anna Brauch said they have “the will and the drive” to lead a program for kids in the Ely area this summer. “While not licensed for providing daycare services, the couple have education degrees and doing post-graduate work. “We are working with the Parent Aware accreditation system that gives parents a resource for child care and early education,” Gardner said.
“We enjoy outdoor education and find that works really well with young kids, ages three and up,” he said. “Perhaps we can enhance another daycare operation, even starting this summer. An outdoor education center would be easy to establish.”
He likened his vision to the Hartley Nature Center in Duluth. “They have a variety of class offerings, even afterschool programs and nature preschool programs,” he said. “The staffing issue is something we worry about.”
The committe will meet on Monday, May 24 in Ely City Hall.
For more information, go to www.parentaware.org. Contact Gardner and Brauch at firstname.lastname@example.org.