Caption: Josie Shink and her son Jameson at work at TentCraft.
Nicole White, the 31-year-old senior web editor at MyNorth.com, and mother of one toddler and one baby, recently ducked into a salon in downtown Traverse City to get her hair styled. The conversation quickly transitioned from curls to childcare.
“Literally the third question she asked was, ‘Oh you have kids. How did you find childcare?’” remembers White. “It became a mini therapy session. Childcare is such a big part of conversation for a female professional who’s also a mother.”
White, who followed her husband Bo to northern Michigan last July and lives near his family north of Leland, didn’t expect to work fulltime but quickly landed a job with MyNorth.com, the media company that publishes Traverse Magazine and runs MyNorthTickets.com. (Bo works for a military contractor and travels frequently to Washington, D.C.). So finding childcare became an immediate necessity. Unlike many millennials and young professionals who choose to live, work and play in this beautiful region, they didn’t have family that was able to care for their children during the workday — at least not at that time.
As the Traverse City region markets itself as a great place for young professionals and area natives to transplant their skills, have an impact on this small but vibrant city, and enjoy a fantastic lifestyle, childcare remains a critical obstacle, alongside housing, transit and diversity.
“I called 35 different childcare providers for my daughter, who is under age 1, and not a single person could take her,” said White, who also researched the website Care.com but found many of the listings to be years old and out of date. She discovered one “incredible place” where she could take both kids. But, White said, the cost was more than her entire salary.
She finally found someone who “vetted out” and whom she trusted to care for her infant. But it turned out the daycare provider lived an hour away from them, requiring her to drive nearly 120 minutes each day. White estimates she pays more than $12,000, annually, for childcare.
“How is that viable or sustainable?” she asked. “There needs to be some sort of public-private partnership that creates subsidies or a support network, and also retains childcare workers.”
The childcare hurdle is a clear impediment to talent attraction, White concedes.
“What about talent that wants to come to this area but doesn’t have family? If we want to attract new and fresh talent, we need to provide opportunity that doesn’t exist here. A colleague of mine had to bring in her Ukrainian grandmother to watch her kids.”
Possible solution: infants in the workplace?
In the past, some Traverse City companies that employ a handful of young parents have tried to offer childcare in the workplace, or subsidize childcare. Some of those ventures have succeeded; others have not.
TentCraft is currently testing a 2-day-per-week “infants in the workplace” program, with assistance from the Parenting in the Workplace Institute. The promotional pop-up tent maker currently employs 76 people at its office in the industrial corridor on Cass St. (the tally might reach 100 by the end of 2017), and the average age in TentCraft’s front office is around 29-30 years old, estimates “people manager” Rob Hanel.
“That’s the age when people are getting married and ready to start families,” he said. “There are eight new babies in the office this year, with two more on the way for mother employees.”
“If the 2-day-per-week testing phase goes well, there won’t be any parameters,” Hanel added, and employees who work in sales or marketing could potentially bring infants with them most days a week.
One young mother who brings her infant to work with her is TentCraft project manager Josie Shink. Her son Jameson, is nearly 6 months old, and hangs out in his cozy “rock n’ play” while his mother works at her desk, just feet away from him. Occasionally she pivots and hands him a soft baby toy to play with.
“I love taking him to work with me,” said Shink. “He’s fun.”