Erickson says it should go from ‘important’ to ‘urgent’ on council’s priority list

    Although no official action was taken, it appeared that, at Monday evening’s Crookston City Council Ways & Means Committee meeting, the shortage of licensed child care options in Crookston unofficially became the community’s most pressing issue.

    As City Administrator Shannon Stassen provided an update on progress on various “strategic priorities” identified by the council at its most recent planning retreat last January, including the child care shortage, Ward 2 Council Member Steve Erickson said he believes the problem should be moved from “important” on the council’s priority list to “urgent.”

    “We talk about child care every day,” Erickson said. He noted that during Manufacturers Week last week, when major manufacturers in Crookston highlighted their operations and hosted community tours, the shortage of licensed child care options in Crookston and its negative impact on workforce recruitment and retention was a popular topic.

    Stassen agreed with Erickson’s suggestion, adding that the City remains as “connected as we can possibly be” with Tri-Valley Opportunity Council and other agencies and stakeholders as efforts are explored to reduce the shortage. Tri-Valley and the City have a state grant to help providers potentially get started, but it’s due to expire at the end of this year and it’s not enough money to help bring about something like a large child care center.

    Stassen said it’s a region-wide problem that is being exacerbated by potential providers not getting into the business or getting into it and then leaving it, whether it’s because of a lack of revenue or overburdensome regulations.

    “It’s frustrating, but it’s understandable when you hear some of the individual stories,” Stassen said, adding that the grant has been helpful but “doesn’t seem to be enough to push things over the top.”

    He noted that state legislators know it’s a pressing issue in rural Minnesota, and that the Northwest Minnesota Foundation has identified a lack of licensed child care as a top priority.

    Mayor Wayne Melbye said he’s consulted with District 1B State Rep. Deb Kiel on the matter, but he said at the legislature still has a metro vs. rural outlook on a lot of issues, and most don’t fully grasp the severity of the shortage in greater Minnesota.

    Even if the City somehow partnered or otherwise helped make it possible for a large child care center to open in Crookston, staffing it could be difficult, and Stassen said it’s possible it would “cannibalize” some existing child care providers in the community. He said the City has looked at ways of enticing U of M Crookston early childhood education graduates to stay here and work as child care providers through incentives like helping to pay off student loans, but it’s not an easy thing to bring about. “You’re talking about dollars,” Stassen said. “They get gobbled up by employers that offer great benefits. They get an early childhood degree but then something more attractive comes along.”

    Melbye said people know it’s a “monster” problem, and he said the time might be coming for a contingent of local stakeholders to venture to the Capitol in St. Paul to lobby legislators to help Crookston find workable solutions. “But we need to be able to tell them what we’d like to do, we need to find something that could work here,” the mayor said.