Addressing the childcare crisis

by Brandom Gengelbach ([email protected]) 120 views 

Every 37 minutes, a new person moves to Northwest Arkansas, attracted by the region’s thriving job market, natural beauty and high quality of life. My family and I were excited to make this journey just seven months ago as we left Fort Worth for what we believe to be one of the most unique and thriving regions in the United States.

As the region grows and attracts working parents, we must consider their greatest needs. Certainly, investment in infrastructure, housing and quality-of-life amenities will continue to make the region attractive. But there’s another critically important area our business communities must be diligent in investing and growing — childcare.

Ensuring high-quality, affordable childcare availability is a workforce recruiting and retention issue. The more comfortable parents are in entering and remaining in the workforce, the better Northwest Arkansas’ overall economic health will be and the more attractive it will be as a destination for working parents.

With that in mind, the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce is one of more than 60 businesses, nonprofits and other organizations that have joined the Excel by Eight Business Coalition.

The coalition recognizes that the connection between quality childcare and a thriving economy cannot be overstated. If parents are forced to stay home because quality childcare options are unaffordable or inaccessible, it undermines our efforts to build a vibrant, competitive business environment.

The statistics are alarming. A 2023 ReadyNation study estimates the annual cost of the childcare crisis in the U.S. at $122 billion in lost earnings, productivity and revenue — more than double the amount in 2018. For Arkansas alone, the economic impact is $865 million. The lack of reliable childcare options keeps many parents, particularly women, out of the workforce. Due to these issues, Arkansas loses an estimated $200 million annually in tax revenue; absences and employee turnover cost employers an additional $665 million annually.

Brandom Gengelbach

The ripple effects of insufficient childcare options are profound. Reduced parental earnings lead to lower tax revenues, putting pressure on all taxpayers. Businesses face increased hiring costs and reduced productivity due to high employee turnover. These challenges are long-term, as parents’ decreased earning potential affects their financial stability and the economy at large.

High-quality early education programs provide significant returns on investment, boosting parents’ employment prospects and equipping children with essential skills. For instance, preschool programs in the U.S. could reduce the achievement gap by 30%-50% with consistent implementation.

These numbers highlight the need for a business-friendly approach to childcare. Business owners must recognize that providing childcare solutions is not just a perk but a strategic investment. A prime example is Walmart. Its new corporate campus includes a children’s enrichment center, accommodating around 500 children. Quality childcare was the No. 1 request for many of their employees when considering the new campus.

Small businesses and entrepreneurs, like Level 5 Architecture in Springdale, can contribute by offering employee benefits such as flexible work options. These measures support working parents and enhance employee satisfaction and loyalty. As we look to policy recommendations, business leaders must advocate for and support initiatives that increase access to affordable, high-quality childcare.

Northwest Arkansas’s growth and economic prosperity depend on addressing our childcare crisis. Business owners must recognize the strategic importance of supporting working parents.

By investing in these solutions, we can create an environment where working parents thrive, businesses succeed, and our community continues to attract and retain top talent.

Brandom Gengelbach is the president and CEO of the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce. He previously served as the president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are those of the author.