Case Study Summary: Missoula Chamber of Commerce’s strategy to address child care

“Child care was obviously impacting the workforce, and as the largest business organization in Missoula, we needed to see if we could connect community partners to help address it.”

– Kim Latrielle, President, Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce

The Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce began the Childcare Initiative in spring 2018 to gather information about local demand for child care and coordinate partnerships aimed at increasing the amount of available child care. Business leaders in Missoula reported that their parent employees had challenges finding child care and that workers often don’t return to their jobs after having a baby. Meanwhile, area child care providers noted that they are not able to meet the strong demand for their services. As many as 1,000 children were estimated to be on child care waiting lists in 2018. For perspective, there are almost 6,000 children under age 5 in the Missoula metro area, according to the American Community Survey.

In response, leadership at the Chamber reached out to a number of community and state partners to help address the issue. In November 2018, the Chamber launched a survey of families to better understand the demand for child care in the city and received more than 550 responses. Child care survey results confirmed what they were hearing in the community: parents reported challenges finding affordable, quality child care. In response to a question about the cost of child care, child care was the fourth-largest family expense across all respondents, and for families with an infant, child care was the second-largest expense, only behind housing. In regards to the impact of child care on employment, 47 percent of respondents indicated they had scaled back or abandoned their career or expect to do so in response to child care issues.

Models to expand child care

With community and state partners, the Chamber is exploring seven different models to expand child care in centers and home-based programs. Each of the models is informed by technical assistance from Mark Roberts, who operates Missoula Early Learning Center, and Todd Schaper with CTA Architects Engineers. Chamber leadership doesn’t expect all of the options to move forward, but even success with one or two would help reduce child care waiting lists.

Ingredients for success

The Childcare Initiative increased both the public’s and community leaders’ awareness of challenges in the child care market in Missoula. The Chamber’s intentional efforts to build cross-sector collaborations resulted in an ongoing conversation about actionable models for improvement at a community level. Approaches included:

  • Direct dissemination of information and recruitment of new leaders through its business members.
  • Elevating the profile of the issue by leveraging media connections to share information with the public.
  • Disseminating data about child care in the city and county, including the number of children on child care waiting lists and survey results of demand for child care.
  • Connecting the technical assistance of a child care operator and an architect to organizations with potential child care expansion locations. This has helped inform which models are feasible in particular situations.
  • Connecting with local and state agencies to address licensing and regulation barriers to expanding child care.