Skagit County employers meet to discuss child care options

Skagit County employers meet to discuss child care options Main Photo

28 Jun 2023

The importance of quality affordable child care cannot be exaggerated, EDASC CEO John Sternlicht told a group of more than 30 business representatives and elected officials gathered June 15 for Child Care for Employers: Options for Workforce Retention and Recruitment. 

Employees aren’t as productive if their child care situation isn’t stable, he noted, and furthermore today’s workers place a higher value on work-life balance. “Employers ignore that at their peril,” Sternlicht said. 

The meeting was convened to begin addressing the problem by learning about solutions available to both employers and families. Organizers in addition to EDASC, including Skagit County, Population Health Trust and the Opportunity Council, said it is merely the starting point for further discussion. 

Framing the problem     

Staff from the Center for Retention and Expansion for Child Care (C-RECC), a division of Bellingham-based Opportunity Council, presented some of the numbers that illustrate the need for families in Skagit County.  

C-RECC’s Sandra Lopez said only 12.64% of the need for child care in Skagit County is met, and the number of licensed providers is shrinking. Over the course of the last few years, even after the pandemic, child care capacity has dropped while the need has increased. 

In 2022, the cost for one month of infant care was $1,660, which is equal to 25% of the county's median income. Combine child care costs with housing, and the number quickly engulfs many working families’ paychecks. 
In fact, Lopez said, many workers decline a job or promotion, or reduce their work from full-time to part-time, because they can't find adequate, affordable child care.  

Moving toward a solution 

Megan Price, C-RECC Child Care Marketing & Recruiting Coordinator, says there's a competitive advantage for those businesses that offer child care benefits to their employees.  

Among those benefits, employers can offer a subsidy to help pay for employees’ child care or offer an FSA as a vehicle to pay for care. They can also sponsor space for a child care center on site, bringing in a contracted provider for the operations. Offering the provider reduced rent lowers the overall child care costs for the employees.  

The state Department of Commerce offers technical assistance to employers to explore the best options for their business and employees: 
through its Employer-Supported Child Care Technical Assistance Program. 

Price said funding to address the supply of child care centers has been allocated by Skagit County, including $75,000 allocated for employer-based child care, and another $100,000 available for family child care startups, providing 10 businesses with $10,000 each.  

Other creative funding solutions for businesses looking to provide care include leveraging a company’s investments or accessing state and local grants. Businesses can also create a co-op with other employers. Price also recommends looking into tax incentives for employers who help their employees with child care.  

Price also points to Child Care AWARE of Washington, a nonprofit agency that offers support for child care providers and can provide a list of referrals for families who are looking for child care resources. 

Providers, employers see need 

Representatives from both the Skagit Valley Family YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club of Skagit County said they struggle to meet the need of local families. From hiring enough employees to meeting certification and licensing requirements, to physical space, challenges abound. 

Ron McHenry, executive director of the Skagit Boys & Girls Club, said he is concerned for the surge and need for school-aged care. His organization is already filling up for its after school care in the fall, well ahead of the usual timeline.  

Julie Blazek, a partner at HKP Architects in Mount Vernon, was among the employers gathered for the afternoon’s discussion. She said her firm would like to gauge interest of other downtown businesses in starting a co-operative child care center downtown. 

C-RECC wants to connect with these employers and others concerned to have deeper discussions on these issues. To learn more, visit Child Care Resources – Opportunity Council or email