For many communities, local investments in infrastructure tend to address familiar issues—housing, transportation, power and telecommunications systems, public event centers and so on. But the civic leadership of Fremont, Nebraska, is thinking more broadly, and maybe a little less conventionally, when it comes to economic development. Last month, the Fremont City Council approved a $71,121 Local Option Economic Development Loan to enable an area entrepreneur to launch a business that will help address the workforce needs of a much wider circle of employers in the community. The business? Pearl Academy, an early childhood education and care center.
Not long after moving to Fremont seven years ago, Myra Katherine Hale began to recognize a growing need for high-quality, affordable child care to serve Fremont’s working parents. Hale’s background as a professional early childhood educator and small business owner attuned her to the fact that the community not only needed to offer quality child care to families of different incomes, but that it should also be flexible enough to align with different work schedules offered by local employers in healthcare, agricultural manufacturing, meat processing and other industries.
"We are in a county that projects an increase in workforce needs of over 1,200 workers in the next year.... Child care and early childhood education opportunities will help in sustaining the critical mass that is the lifeline of a growing region and community."
Garry Clark | Executive Director | Greater Fremont Development Council
Hale’s pursuit of the loan for Pearl Academy widened the conversation about how Local Option Economic Development funds could be used by the Fremont City Council. These funds, made available by LB840 (1991), enables municipalities to collect and invest local tax dollars based on their community’s economic development plan. Fremont’s plan typically allows for loans to businesses engaged in research and development, manufacturing, telecommunications, tourism and other activities. Hale’s own proposal immediately followed the City Council’s decision to approve a $250,000 loan to bring a “wood bat league” baseball team to Fremont.
Hale says she used Dividends Nebraska’s website to help her frame the discussion that led to the City Council’s unanimous 7-0 decision to approve the loan to Pearl Academy, half of which will be forgivable after the center has been in operation for five years. “The research and information provided by Dividends fit the case I needed to make,” she said, describing how she outlined the role quality child care plays in helping local business and industry flourish. “You could see the light bulb go on.”
The Pearl Academy proposal also resonated strongly with Garry Clark, Executive Director of the Greater Fremont Development Council. Clark, who spoke in support of Hale’s application during the City Council meeting, believes businesses like Pearl Academy will better position Fremont and its environs to support necessary growth in the area’s population and workforce.
“We are in a county that projects an increase in workforce needs of over 1,200 workers in the next year,” says Clark. “This does not include existing openings in Fremont and Dodge County. Couple this with the projected population increase of 2,000 people in Fremont in the next three to four years…. Child care and early childhood education opportunities will help in sustaining the critical mass that is the lifeline of a growing region and community.”
"A lot of Fremont residents who commute to Omaha for work end up relying on providers in that city rather than in their own community. This is a way to encourage people to invest in local business and in Fremont."
Myra Katherine Hale | Owner | Pearl Academy
For City Council Member Susan Jacobus, the issue hinges not only on the quantity of available child care options, but their professionalism as well. Reflecting on her own experience, Jacobus points out that having to rely on sporadic, unreliable child care services can greatly complicate the ability of parents—especially single parents—to meet their work obligations while ensuring appropriate care for their children.
Availability of quality child care affects workforce attraction, retention, attendance and productivity. But, according to Hale, it also influences people’s behavior when it comes to growing the local economy. “There’s a large demand for quality child care. A lot of Fremont residents who commute to Omaha for work end up relying on providers in that city rather than in their own community,” she says. “This is a way to encourage people to invest in local business and in Fremont.”
Pearl Academy opened its doors on August 13. Read more in the Fremont Tribune.