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Group seeks input on child care, 'one of the trifecta' of workforce woes

Areal view of North Central Michigan College in Petoskey.
Charles Dawley
Areal view of North Central Michigan College in Petoskey.

The lack of child care options in the region makes life for new families difficult at work as much as it does at home.

Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce President Nikki Devitt said parents sometimes need to take long amounts of time off work to take care of their children.

In extreme cases, they’re forced to move away from the community.

“It's one of the trifecta that we hear about all the time when it comes to the workforce,” she said. “The combined hurdles of lack of housing, lack of affordable and available childcare, along with public transportation, has become an extreme deterrent to young professionals in the area and established ones as well.”

Local researchers are collecting data to try to fix it.

Surveys from North Central Michigan College’s Child Care Initiative will ask employers about the type of child care benefits they offer and how often they’ve lost employees due to the crisis.

They’ll also ask workers with children how their availability has been affected by the lack of options. Researchers will use the data to come up with new programs and solutions.

NCMC early childhood professor and member of the research team Jennifer Wixson says it won’t be an easy fix, but the data will help direct the effort.

“If we really dedicate ourselves to looking at what is going to sustain the test of time, then we will have a system that is here for generations to come and is not constantly spinning its wheels for investments and spinning its wheels for workforce,” Wixson said.

She added one of the greatest barriers to providing childcare is recruiting a sustainable workforce.

There are only 16 child care providers in Emmet County, which causes a nine to 12 month-long waiting list for most families, Wixson said.

Back in May, the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation awarded a $50,000 grant in support of North Central Michigan College’s Child Care Initiative.

Additional funding from the Frey Foundation allowed the college to formally launch the program.

The entire research endeavor will take another year to complete. Data collection from the surveys will be completed by mid-December.

The employer or employee surveys are available on NCMC's website.

The Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce is also helping to distribute the surveys.

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.