Child Care and the North Carolina Economy

Child care is one of the biggest expenses families face, spending nearly $11,467 on infant care yearly in North Carolina. To put this into perspective, the annual cost of infant care is 56% greater than the annual cost to attend a four-year public university of North Carolina. Not only do families with young children encounter higher costs, but they also face them when they are in their earliest income-earning years. These obstacles create limitations on our workforce and in turn, negatively impact the economy. Impediments to quality and affordable child care will only be exacerbated once temporary relief from the U.S American Rescue Plan funds are depleted in June 2024.

A Discussion Begins

Recognizing this challenge confronting many families in our region, the Centralina Economic Development District (EDD) decided to host a moderated discussion between economic developers, child care providers and local government employees and officials to develop actionable solutions. Centralina EDD staff invited local government and economic development partners, as well as child care and social services providers across the region, to attend the in-person forum entitled The Role of Child Care on the North Carolina Economy in February of 2024. The event, supported by funding from the Southeast Crescent Regional Commission (SCRC) Local Development District Capacity Building Program, was designed to bolster the region by developing strategic actions and deliverables to support and expand the goals of the SCRC and Centralina’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy “Prosperity for All” 2023-2028 implementation goals.

The Experts

The panelists included Janet Singerman from Child Care Resources Inc., Aaron Merchen from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Keena Thomas, Novant Health, Director Child Care Services. The audience was represented by Smart Start and North Carolina Partnership for Children, Chambers of Commerce, economic developers and elected officials. The diverse expertise of the panel and the audience combined allowed for a robust discussion that included a wide array of best practices ranging from local public solutions to private business solutions.

Janet Singerman recognizes the importance of collaboration and commits to a continued conversation stating, “I welcomed this important opportunity to share information about the impact of child care on economic development, particularly in light of our region’s incredible growth, the importance of removing barriers to employment given the current and projected workforce shortage and the challenging economics of child care as our region’s programs face a post-pandemic funding cliff in June that will further weaken their already fragile economic viability.”

The Resources

The panel included an interactive discussion with the audience to develop a “call to action” document titled Child Care: Nurturing Growth (Strategic Recommendations for Economic Development and Local Government). The solutions and best practices discussed amongst the group were also incorporated into a tool kit. Some of the topics addressed include:

  • Examining local zoning and land use opportunities for child care facilities;
  • Considering child care needs in planning and development process;
  • Reducing regulations to help home-based child care providers grow;
  • Developing a how-to guide for child care entrepreneurs;
  • Promoting early childhood education career pathways;
  • Establishing a child care task force and strategic plan that addresses barriers; and
  • Engaging businesses in child care needs and awareness.
In Conclusion

Local officials and economic developers must acknowledge child care as an essential element of the economic infrastructure that fosters a prosperous region. The Child Care Road Map prepared by the US Chamber of Commerce assists employers support the child care needs of their employees. By integrating a culture of family support into their planning policies and practices, they can pave the way for a more robust economy. Moreover, it is essential for governments and community leaders to proactively identify and overcome obstacles that limit access to affordable child care services. Fostering collaborative conversation amongst local government units, childcare providers and economic developers is essential in determining solutions that prioritize the sustainability of our economy and overall quality of life. As we strive to advance economic growth, it is imperative not to underestimate the foundational role of childcare in shaping the future workforce and fostering community resilience. Together, through intentional collaboration and unwavering dedication, we can continue cultivate a brighter tomorrow for generations to come.