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Linking child care and rural economic development in central Minnesota

Thinking about jobs and economic development doesn’t often connect with thoughts of child care.

But that’s exactly what communities in greater Minnesota have been thinking about when it comes to rural growth and revitalization. Now, Greater Than Minnesota, a partnership between First Children’s Finance and the six Minnesota Initiative Foundations, is mobilizing those communities.

In partnership with the Initiative Foundation, Greater Than Minnesota will host a Child Care Town Hall meeting in Brainerd May 22. Concerned community members, local elected officials, family child care providers, child care centers, small business owners, large employers, economic development representatives — anyone interested in and impacted by the local child care supply is invited to participate.

Based on the priorities established and ideas generated at the meeting, a community solution action plan will be drafted for Cass, Crow Wing and Wadena counties. The plan will identify local early care and education trends, challenges and solutions.

“Too often, decisions about early care and education are made in the Twin Cities metro area while communities in greater Minnesota are left out of the conversation,” said Heidi Hagel Braid, regional director at First Children’s Finance. By hosting a Town Hall meeting as its starting point in each region of the state, Greater Than Minnesota reports it is determined to listen and learn, not lecture and diagnose.

“Quality child care is a very critical topic which we must continue to dialog about in how we can do more to help this area,” said Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter. “We know that children’s brains develop most rapidly from 0 – 5 years old. When we invest in those years it will not only give the child a greater opportunity for success in their future education, it is also a fiscally wise investment.”

The Greater Than Minnesota project has been working region by region across the state since last fall, equipping rural communities with the roadmap and resources for innovation within its child care industry as well as its local economy. Many communities have already seen successes both large and small, the organization reported.

In Thief River Falls, a lack of child care options for shift workers was forcing local giant Digi-Key Corporation to bus in employees from surrounding towns. The company is now offering cash bonuses for local providers to care for the children of Digi-Key employees at night. In Montevideo, the city’s economic development department is addressing its community’s dire shortage of infant care by providing startup funding for expansion of an infant room.

“While each community faces a different set of challenges, their stories are very much the same. Where some might see desolate swaths of land and dwindling populations, (Greater Than Minnesota) sees opportunity for innovation and renewal,” the organization reported.

“Although small communities face many challenges, they are also resilient,” said Hagel Braid, who grew up in rural North Dakota. “They have the innovation it takes to develop nimble, creative solutions that work for their community and for others in greater Minnesota.”

The Child Care Town Hall meeting is 6:15 p.m. at the Timbermist Convention Center in Brainerd with complimentary dinner served at 5:30 p.m.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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