Development starts with day care

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Do you want to grow the community?

The most direct way to do it isn't with a new cookie-cutter apartment building, or hunting a new factory. It's with a day care center.

It doesn't matter how many jobs you have, or how cheap the housing is, if a community has no place to take care of its children.

I was interested to hear that a committee looking at a new early education school wants to include a day care center in that project, even though it technically is not a function of the school system. They get it. But with the schools' debt limit tapped out, a new school could be a long way off, and the day care crisis in this town can't wait.

If we really want to grow the community, lets do something about it.

Let's put the school board, the city council, the county supervisors, maybe the hospital board and the BVU trustees too, together at one table, lock the door, and nobody comes out until we've got a day care facility plan on the board with some funding found by each entity.

Neither the city, county or school district has the cash to do it alone, nor should they have to. We've collaborated before - Community Education is a good example. If we make day care a priority in this community this can be done. BVU has a dorm that is no longer being used for housing that could be their contribution, and think of the valuable experience early ed students could have working/volunteering at a children's facility on their own campus. There are other available buildings in town, from the vacant Godfather's to old Bomgaars. Heck of a tax write-off for someone. If East is replaced, that building could be available.

As far as I'm concerned, all the big employers in this town should chip in too - they are all scratching for reliable workers, and having available day care for local families is how you get and keep them. All would benefit, so they all should help out.

And I'm going to throw this out there - some of the local taxpayer money we are giving to the Iowa Lakes Corridor could go a long way as seed money toward creating a new community day care center in our own town.

Nothing against the Corridor, mind you. It is a sincere, hardworking agency, and has done some valuable things including a lead role in the new program to relocate military veterans here. It is currently asking for money for a branded effort to increase population 5 percent in 5 years, an admirable goal. But it would be a lot easier to convince people to come here if there was a place to accept their children, wouldn't it?

I'm not saying that we shouldn't consider outside funding requests. But perhaps we should base contributions on how many new jobs a group like the Corridor is solely responsible for establishing - not in Spencer or Estherville or Spirit Lake, but in our town.

I understand the logistics here. The state likes coordinated regions instead of hundreds of local development agencies, and so there are certain financial incentives to buying into a regional organization like the Corridor.

Yet it's a bit of an uneasy alliance. The northern cities in the group are closer to Jackson, Minn. than they are to Storm Lake. The Corridor is based in Spencer, and has no office in our county. The arrangement has no guarantee that the money from taxpayers here will be spent here.

And, we do fund our own local development agency Storm Lake United from city and county taxpayer dollars as well. There is no development collaboration between the Corridor and SLU, and to some extent, there must be some duplication of effort. When funds are tight, we would like to see our local agency, which has its office in downtown Storm Lake, funded first.

If we do fund the Corridor to its desired levels, would we be out of line asking it to play a role in creating a day care here? After all, that would create jobs too.

We do a lot of talking about development here, and we've gone at it from a lot of different angles and spent a lot of money over the years. Of course we need to continue to stress creation of new, good jobs and housing for a tight market. We have had the benefit of immigration-powered growth, and that means lots of young families, which keeps us vital.

But I'm guessing that all of you who have raised children will agree with me on this:

Nothing of value, nothing, matters as much as your children. Not a nice house to live in, not a rewarding job. If our family had not been fortunate enough to find good babysitters for our children when they were young, we would have left here so fast skid marks would have been laid down.

There simply are not enough of those in-home caregivers to go around, and that is putting our community at a decided disadvantage.

It has now been five and a half years since Gingerbread House closed down, and we still do not have a public day care facility option in Storm Lake - with 20,000 people in this area and a high child population?

It is time for day care to be priority one. When it comes to young families, as a movie once famously said, if you build it they will come.