After hearing frustrations for years, the Bend Chamber of Commerce hopes to hire someone to specifically address Central Oregon’s child care shortage as early as November.

The chamber is piloting Bend’s first Childcare Accelerator — a person who would work with local businesses and educational institutions to remove the barriers that make opening child care facilities an arduous and expensive process.

The idea is the product of a task force, which for the past 18 months sought ways to encourage and support more child care opportunities, said Katy Brooks, Bend Chamber president.

“It’s all about, ‘How do you make the numbers work?’ Because (child care) is so not a lucrative business,” Brooks said.

The lack of opportunities for child care has been a widespread issue for employers and employees throughout the region. Spots in child care facilities are only available for one in three children in Deschutes County, said Carolyn Eagan, Bend’s economic development director, who gave a presentation on the issue to the City Council on Wednesday.

“The need is across the board,” Eagan said. “But the most significant need, where we are only having one spot for every three kids, (is) for children who are younger than five.”

Lack of available land or vacant space and generally low wages in the child care industry are among reasons that have contributed to the shortage, Eagan said.

The idea for the position comes at a time when the City Council is considering changing policies to encourage more child care development. One proposal includes removing the conditional use permit fee that comes with opening a child care facility as a way to keep costs down. Further reducing system development charges and allocating money to help child care centers with infrastructure costs are also being considered by the council.

As a result of these barriers, employers have lost good employees because they can’t find care for their child, Brooks said. So several businesses, public and private, have pooled together about $74,000 to fund the position in its first year to get the program off the ground.

The chamber needs about $30,000 more to support the position, but is moving forward with hiring someone by November because “the need is so great,” Brooks said.

“We hope the community sees the work, and (that) the rest of the money will come,” she said.

The goal for whoever is hired will be to work with local businesses about finding space where child care facilities could be held, and working with institutions like Oregon State University-Cascades and Central Oregon Community College that could help provide staff support to existing facilities.

The work will build up to eventually establishing a nonprofit that would pool resources from businesses and other public institutions to support child care facilities and programming in the future.

“This person is not going to solve the shortage,” Brooks said. “But it’s a way to move toward addressing it.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, bvisser@bendbulletin.com

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