At hospitals, food halls and ski resorts, Colorado efforts are helping employers create on-site childcare


A ski resort in Steamboat Springs, a community hospital in Grand Junction and a food hall project in downtown Pueblo.

At first glance, they don’t have much in common, but all three have ambitious plans to launch crèches for their employees within two years.

They are among 10 Colorado employers participating in a new program that guides businesses through the complicated process of opening child care centers at or near their sites. Called “Design Lab” and conducted primarily through bi-weekly Zoom sessions, the five-month program is funded by $54,000 from the state and managed by the group of companies, Executives Partnering to Invest in Children, or EPIC.

If all goes according to plan, the effort could produce nearly 500 new child care slots across Colorado and give participating employers a new tool to recruit and retain workers. The Design Lab takes place as Colorado leaders work to strengthen a pandemic-hit industry and broaden the pool of suppliers in preparation for a major expansion of state-funded kindergarten in 2023.

At the same time, a new state grant program will send nearly $9 million this year to help Colorado employers cover the cost of building child care centers for their workers.

Currently, there are enough licensed child care centers in Colorado to serve only approximately 62% of the 246,000 children under the age of 6 in need.

State officials say employer-provided child care is part of the solution. Such offers reduce employee turnover, shorten commuting times, boost morale, and provide childcare hours that better match parents’ working hours.

Design lab participants, who also include cities, school districts, a hotel, a seniors’ residence and a food production company, say the program has been invaluable in teaching them a topic outside of their field of design. expertise.

“It was like a college education opening a daycare center,” said Nathan Stern, director of development at Fuel and Iron Realty, which leads the Pueblo food hall project.

“It was so vital for us because we learned absolutely every minute detail necessary to not only design a facility, but to open a facility in a thoughtful way,” said Loryn Duke, communications manager at Steamboat Ski & Resort. Corp.

Nicole Riehl, president and CEO of EPIC, said most or all Design Lab employers will likely end up hiring an operator for their new centers — perhaps a childcare chain or a leader. childcare center – rather than managing the facilities themselves. . But business leaders planning such facilities still need a solid understanding of the highly regulated world of child care licensing, governance, and funding.

“We run the gamut,” said Riehl, who hopes EPIC will be able to offer Design Lab to a second round of Colorado employers.

Duke said the ski resort plans to open a center to serve employees’ children as early as next November. It will accommodate approximately 35 children, including infants and toddlers, a population for which it is particularly difficult to find licensed child care. While many details are still in the works, she said it’s likely the center will charge sliding scale fees based on family income.

Duke, who has a 10-month-old daughter, knows the wild goose race that many families face when looking for child care. She put herself on waiting lists for childcare even before breaking the news of her pregnancy to her family. After baby Eloise was born, Duke called a local daycare center twice a week for 2½ months to see if a space had become available. When it finally happened, even though it was only two days a week, she and her husband jumped on it.

As “incredibly stressful” as the lack of childcare can be for parents, Duke knows how damaging it can be for businesses trying to find and keep staff.

“It has long been proven that retaining employees is more profitable than rehiring,” she said.

Before plans for the resort’s daycare began to take shape last summer, Duke and two close colleagues, who are also working moms, were on the verge of quitting.

“There was a time when the three of us thought we had to quit because we couldn’t find babysitting,” she said.

At Grand Junction Community Hospital, a shortage of local childcare has been a problem for its employees since before the pandemic. (Several years ago, the county health department even directed a campaign to create thousands of new childcare slots.)

Now, with guidance from the design lab and a state employer-based childcare grant, hospital administrators plan to build a 10,000-square-foot daycare near the “Lion’s” walking trail. Loop” behind the hospital. The opening of the center is scheduled for early 2023 and will be able to accommodate 100 children, with support from 6 weeks. Eventually, the center could operate 24 hours a day, and the project leaders are considering the possibility of offering care when children fall ill.

Tawny Espinoza, vice president of business development at the hospital, said the Design Lab experience showed hospital leaders that their plan to create a childcare program from scratch was feasible. .

“Childcare is not our wheelhouse. We do healthcare,” she said, “EPIC was able to…create a roadmap of how to get from point A to point B.”

Although the project is about a year away from completion, Espinoza said many of the hospital’s 1,200 staff are already showing interest.

“I get emails almost every day from ‘Hey, when will it be open,'” she said.

Leaders of the Fuel and Iron Food Hall, on the outskirts of downtown Pueblo, plan to create a 54-seat daycare center just east of the historic old hardware store that anchors the project. They will provide subsidized childcare services to employees of the five food hall restaurants as well as to residents of the project’s affordable housing. Additionally, they hope to offer childcare until 8 p.m. to better align with restaurant shifts.

Like the community hospital, Fuel and Iron recently won one of four state grants to build child care centers. More of these grants could be awarded this spring.

“Without subsidies, I don’t know how we could justify the cost of building a daycare center,” said Stern, of Fuel and Iron Realty.

But with restaurants in fierce competition for employees, he believes the new center will help recruit and retrain the best candidates for the food hall.

Childcare is “essential to a healthy workforce, which is essential to a healthy business community,” he said.

Design Lab Participants

  • Chancellor Health Care and Devonshire Acres (Logan County)
  • City of Aspen (Pitkin County)
  • Clear Creek County and Clear Creek School District
  • Community Hospital (Mesa County)
  • Fuel and Iron (Pueblo County)
  • JM Smucker Co. (Weld County)
  • Rio Blanco County and City of Meeker
  • Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. (Rutt County)
  • Vail Valley Foundation and the Sonnenalp Hotel (Eagle County)
  • Weld County School District RE-1

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