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Workforce is a critical issue everywhere and communities are being creative in solving real challenges with impact. The Obion County (TN) Joint Economic Development Council is addressing their leading workforce challenge head-on. I had the opportunity to visit with Lindsay Frilling, President, about their initiative.

Tell me about the situation driving this initiative.
Over the last 5 years, we've had 1,200 new jobs announced. We initially thought we would create a campaign to recruit talent to move to Obion County. We asked employers to become involved in the talent recruitment campaign. Although they were interested and supportive, what happened instead they shared critical workforce issues. We didn't fully understand the extent of challenges until we intentionally explored. Limited childcare availability was a major issue.

Two of our largest employers are food processors with 2nd and 3rd shift needs. We learned that one employer loses 2 to 3 employees a week due to childcare when moving to another shift and relying on family members to care for children. Another employer said they have employees on 1st shift who are interested in 2nd and 3rd shift to increase wages (shift differential) but can't without childcare. This issue limits opportunities and essentially keeps wages depressed. Hands down childcare was #1 issue for employed and job seekers in Obion County.

We put "the breaks" on the talent recruitment to focus in on local employer issues with workforce.

What are you trying to achieve with this work?
Expand childcare opportunities for 2nd and 3rd shift so that we can help businesses attract and retain the workforce they need to be profitable. Current childcare facilities are top quality. We want employees to have confidence their children are safe and secure at any hour they work.

Long term, childcare will be a business attraction tool. First and foremost, we are taking care of existing businesses.

What are you doing to improve childcare in Obion County?
We've identified opportunity for existing childcare provider to grow, or we could start one from scratch. We are having conversations with existing childcare providers to see who may be interested in extending hours. They are the experts and know requirements for overnight daycare. For instance, children must sleep on cots at night versus on floor for daytime naps. It's been a learning experience. We are collecting all existing providers and services in one document - for Obion County AND two border counties. We are creating a childcare catalog which will be a tool for employers to give to employees during orientation.

There is significant value from communication flowing back and forth between providers and employers.

What have been some "ah ha" moments so far in your efforts?
Part of it for me was realizing that it wasn't as a big of a deal for daycare providers to offer nighttime service. They need cots, not a lot of money. Not a big expense. I thought it would be more difficult to extend hours.

There is state assistance for childcare - employers are learning about the program. State can pay for everything but $9 and employers are open to paying the $9 gap as hiring incentive.

What advice would you give to other interested in doing something like this?
It's all about collaboration. Bringing the right people to the table. TadZo facilitated input and planning meetings and helped us take the blinders off to paint the big picture. Have a holistic approach covering all steps to solve problem, who needs to be involved, and how to market once we've done it.

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