It’s a Wednesday afternoon, and preschoolers at the Credit Union 1 child care center in Anchorage are playing outside. Activities range from passing a basketball, playing tag or simply digging for treasure in the sandbox. Site manager Kayla Hayes said unlike other child care centers, many of the kids’ parents are going about their work day in the same building.
“When we can we take a trip around the credit union to say hi to our families, which is one of our favorites,” Hayes said. “And I know the families’ favorites too.”
Though its child care facility has been around for more than 15 years, Credit Union 1 is part of a growing trend of more companies offering child care assistance to employees. Companies report happier staff and better retention rates — especially as affordable child care becomes harder and harder to find, with rising costs and lengthy waitlists in urban areas and child care deserts across rural Alaska. A new state task force was recently formed to address the state’s child care crunch, as many families struggle to find care.
At Credit Union 1 in Anchorage, demand is high for its child care center. It’s licensed to serve 32 children. It’s not free, but human resources officials say it’s priced lower than the market average for child care.
Hayes said the schedule for the center is built around Credit Union 1’s branch hours.
“We’re open a little earlier than the credit union,” Hayes said. “And we’re open a little later than the credit union so that families don’t have to worry, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’ve got to run to go get my kids. The center’s closing.’ No, we’re here… we’re here for you.”
For employees in Credit Union 1’s non-Anchorage branches, like Fairbanks and Kodiak, the company offers financial assistance to help cover child care costs, since they don’t have on-site centers in those locations.
Partnerships help make it possible
While Credit Union 1 owns its Anchorage child care center, Providence helps manage it. Other businesses also have partnered with operators to get child care for their employees.
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium opened its child care center in 2018. ANTHC business support manager Hollie Aga said the move came after hearing concerns from workers.
“Employees were voicing their opinions that they couldn’t find child care,” Aga said. “They put it in satisfaction surveys, telling their managers they were missing work because they had to care for children.”
The facility is licensed for 100 kids and is operated by KinderCare, a company that also operates a center for Southcentral Foundation and another one for federal employees. Anchorage KinderCare executive director Angie Lantz said child care has become a widely sought after benefit.
“Child care is second to only health care as the most important employer-provided benefit,” Lantz said. “Above benefits like retirement, dental and even paid leave. It’s a huge perk.”
Lantz said it’s not just a benefit financially. Many parents enjoy the close proximity to their children during the work day.
“We have a lot of moms that come on their breaks to either see their children, nurse their children,” Lantz said. “We have a space that allows them to have private time with their child in the middle of a day.”
A way to attract workers
Trevor Storrs is president and CEO of the Alaska Children’s Trust, a statewide organization that advocates for families. He said when a business creates an on-site child care center for its employees, it also frees up space in other facilities.
“The employees’ kids are going there, which could take people off a waitlist, shorten waitlists, and it does expand the overall system,” Storrs said.
However, Storrs said, a downside for smaller child care centers is that corporate-sponsored child care could potentially offer higher wages and benefits, making it harder for them to compete for staff.
“So, at times, those businesses could be more attractive to the workforce to enter and work there,” Storrs said. “We already have a shortage. And even though the waitlist got shorter, if people don’t have the staff, they can’t take on more.”
As businesses explore how to provide child care for employees, Credit Union 1 President and CEO Mark Burgess said there’s no one pathway.
“I think you can do it in a bunch of different ways, whether it’s having a child care facility at your location, or offsetting the cost of some of the child care or partnering with other businesses or cooperatives to create one together,” Burgess said.
And while other companies weigh the pros and cons, a new project at Anchorage’s major airport is moving forward with its child care proposal. Northlink Aviation is set to break ground soon on an expansion of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport’s southern cargo terminal. Northlink CEO Sean Dolan said the terminal will include an on-site child care center. Dolan sees it as a way to hire a diverse and loyal workforce.
“You have to look for something besides a cool looking water bottle and another 50 cents an hour,” Dolan said.
Dolan said the child care center will be available for Northlink employees, as well as other terminal workers.