Access to child care - especially quality, affordable child care - is a national problem that only got magnified with the events of the last few years.  However locally, our region offers unique challenges to the problem that compound the issue.

That's why local leaders have been looking for ways to offer solutions.

One of the inherent problems is the lack of good, qualified candidates to staff child care centers.  It goes without saying that if there is a shortage of staff there is a shortage of child care options for families.

To offer help the City of Duluth is providing f$300,000 to support a pilot project that aims to improve staffing concerns. That program - the Child Care Workforce Solutions Pilot Project - is being administered by the Northland Foundation.

According to information shared by the city, the program works like this:

"The Child Care Center Workforce Solutions Project will make available flexible funding through a competitive process to license child care center and family programs to help with staff recruitment and retention. Selected pilot projects will also receive peer learning opportunities and specialized trainings."

As part of the funding that's available,  the Northland Foundation will award from $1,500 to $12,000 to eligible child care programs based on existing licensing capacity.  The selection process will be competitive in nature.

Northland Foundation President Tony Sertich offers that the pilot program is truly a cooperative effort with multiple parties in the region:

"Northland [Foundation] and our partners are doing what we can to support workforce attraction and retention to help address our region's significant child care shortage.  The City of Duluth 1200 Fund's $300,000 grant to our organization provides a major boost to extend the reach of this pilot within the City of Duluth and help stretch additional funding from partners including the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation across the region."

The funding comes from the City of Duluth's 1200 Fund.  According to their website, the goal of that organization matches the intent:

"The Duluth 12 Fund provides incentive loans for business expansions and relocations within the City of Duluth, which will create new jobs.  Loans will be made to eligible businesses to create the inducement necessary to structure financial packages to support business growth........A loan from the Duluth 1200 Fund is intended to address a gap in the financial package, not replace business owner equity contributions or traditional bank lending."

Other local community partners spoke highly of the potential for this pilot program.  Elena Foshay - the Director of Duluth Workforce Development said,  "We know the child care shortage is negatively impacting the workforce, families, businesses, and our communities.  We are pleased to partner with the Northland Foundation to launch this new opportunity to help stabilize and grow child care program capacity to serve more families with young children."

Deb Otto, a member of the Duluth 1200 Fund Board also shared similar sentiments. "This partnership with Northland Foundation is a stepping stone in the right direction to assist providers in their time of need.  We are thrilled to partner with the Northland Foundation and appreciative of all of the work they have done in the child care space".

Applications for the pilot program will be accepted through December 13.  Awards will be finalized the week of January 24, 2023.  The application form is available on the Northland Foundations website.

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