ASHLAND ─ Ashland-area businesses have expressed interest and support for the local childcare initiative which began last month.

The Women’s Fund Steering Committee of Ashland County Community Foundation announced in early April the two-year project aiming to increase access to affordable childcare in the county.

The initiative will help existing agencies expand services and support the establishment of a new childcare center, according to the steering committee. The facility is likely to be opened at or near the industrial park, where thousands of people work.

The community foundation organized a panel, “Why Childcare Solutions Matter to Your Business,” on Thursday to foster more discussion. The panelists included local business representatives, a parent and a childcare facility director.

Mike Strahler, general manager for Packaging Corporation of America Ashland/Akron, said he saw the initiative as an opportunity for companies to bring value to employees and retain them. It will help people love their jobs and have a work-life balance.

Ashland-based BCU Electric has found 15 to 17 percent of its workforce has a childcare need, according to Cam Peden, the company’s human resource, compliance and marketing director.

He said BCU did an internal survey at one location and found more than 10 employees have a child under 12 and are actively looking for care services. Some of them are single fathers.

The company believes offering childcare benefits is another way to attract talents, Peden said. And all the employees support the Women’s Fund effort.

“The project managers, the foreman, all of them are for the idea of what this offers, which is really unique. Because nowadays, no one seems to agree on anything,” he said.

BCU has researched three different ways that it can support the childcare need of its employees. Peden said the first one is to offer direct payment from the company to a childcare center. It can also provide an employee stipend along with the paychecks.

In addition, BCU can allocate an amount of money for the use. Peden said employees would have to register for the financial support and only use it at a specific center. It would be on a first-come, first-served basis. If there is any money left, then an employee can apply and use it at any agency. 

Peden said each company would offer the benefits differently and the key is to find the best scenario for the business.

“I think most people would tell you, all of our employees told us, anything would be better than nothing,” he said.

The Women’s Fund Steering Committee has looked into the current childcare availability and affordability in Ashland County and Ohio.

Kristin Aspin, the community foundation’s chief program officer, said the need for infant and toddler care is significant. Among the 15 facilities in the county that offer early childcare or educational services, only three are for infants and toddlers.

Besides, no facility in Ashland County provides second-shift, third-shift or weekend care, Aspin said. Some parents have to leave their young children at home and go to work on Saturdays.

Aspin said the Women’s Fund Steering Committee has reached out to 23 businesses at or near the industrial park. Those companies are asked to survey their employees by the end of the month.

The survey was created by the committee, Aspin said. It will help the organization understand the needs, including how many children need the care service and at what time. The committee will work on a more detailed plan and budget for the new childcare center once the data returns.

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