It’s a decades-long, complex problem without an easy solution but regional leaders are attempting to help families have access to affordable child care in area communities.


Following the completion of a Childcare Economic Impact Study, the Lincoln Trail Area Development District shared its results with local stakeholders to include industry leaders, government officials and others and formed a task force for its next steps in tackling the issue.

“We brought together folks to talk about this problem and we had local businesses, large companies step up and say, ‘Hey, this is a big problem for us. We will help fund this study,’ ” LTADD Executive Director Daniel London said of the $46,000 study. “They all contributed because this is a real problem and they want to see a real solution.”


The data gathered from the study, conducted by Thomas P. Miller & Associates, marks what London is calling a “pivotal moment” for the region as it “underscores the critical importance of address child care accessibility and affordability” for workforce vitality.

“What this study has produced is, we knew there was a problem, but now we have quantitative data that tells us exactly what that problem is,” London said.


The study determined 2,035 “work willing” parents in the eight-county Lincoln Trail Area Development District, which includes Hardin, LaRue and Meade counties, with the addition of Hart County at the request of study sponsors, would work if barriers of cost, availability or both to child care were removed.


If those parents entered the workforce, it could mean a boost of between $99.2 million to $126.3 million in annual earnings for these families.

“These earnings, predominantly circulated within the region, would drive local economic activities, generating additional tax revenues for governments and boosting the Gross Regional Product by $164.5 to $230.6 million, leading to further revenue gains,” the study said.

“This is where personal and professional really match each other,” London said of the data addressing needs of the public and private sectors. “That’s how we got involved, a convergence of all these experiences and issues and the ADD district is the chief collaborator and integrator for our eight counties and 27 cities. Our mission is to do for our local governments and our almost 300,000 citizens what they can’t do for themselves.

“Here’s a clear problem of they can’t solve this themselves,” London added. “Every year, it’s like compounding interest, it increases, increases and increases.”


With state workforce participation hovering around an “abysmal” 57%, those 2,035 workers is a little more than 80% of the 2,500 positions BlueOval SK in Glendale currently is hiring, London said. “They would die for that at this point,” London said. “Not to mention Baptist Health Hardin, Fischbach USA and the other companies represented here. They would love to access to that pool. So this is a huge issue that we get to work on and pitch solutions as we solve this problem.”  To solve the problem, London said the task force is charged with involving a “perfect mix” of a triad of entities — government, private industry and business and the families.

Laying the ground work for improved access to child care in the state was 18th District Rep. Samara Heavrin, R-Leitchfield, who London said “is a true champion” of the cause and has led the effort in the state legislature. “I want to start out and say how humbling it is that in 2022 when I started this work on child care, I never dreamed it would lead to a task force for Lincoln Trail Area Development District,” Heavrin said, adding that she wanted to brag on the ADD’s leadership for having the vision to try and solve this area of workforce participation.

Part of that effort was House Bill 499, sponsored by Heavrin, which passed in 2022. The bill established a pilot program to pay for the state to match employer child care contributions for employees making less than $65,000 and the matched contribution tapers off after that earnings threshold.


That program, which started in July 2023 and Heavrin calls “cutting-edge policy,” was codified in the state budget this past legislative session. “We continue to see that grow,” said Heavrin, who also serves on the local task force. “It’s not growing as fast as we would like for it to. I think that employers were scared to make the commitment with it just being a pilot program. So with the money being there — it was funded with $2 million in the budget — with it being there forever that is going to encourage more employers to offer that.”

Heavrin also worked to pass House Bill 561, which creates Childcare Ready Communities, this past legislative session. The bill focuses on removing local barriers to child care such as zoning restrictions, land use rules or the cost of a certificate.


The work the task force is doing is of special interest to Rachel Ritchey, a local mother and advocate for regional childcare reform. Ritchey, who sits on the task force, is the mother of a 17-year-old daughter and five-year-old twins.


After a 13-year career in the banking industry, Ritchey left to become a stay-at-home mother with access to preferred childcare a leading factor.


Recognizing she and other friends with young children are in the same boat of not being able to get into the childcare facilities of their choice or finding a job that pays enough to cover the cost, Ritchey has been staying at home with her children. “For five years, I’ve been nothing but mom,” Ritchey said, whose husband runs a lawn care business that she does bookkeeping for. “That’s not a sense of really contributing while being a stay-at-home mom, raising the babies, which is extremely important, but that doesn’t pay for the groceries.”

Ritchey is hopeful the work the task force does will help alleviate the stress caused by not being able to work for lack of child care. “While I don’t have a lot of experience in the legislative, … I think there is such a need and I am passionate about all these other families … that can’t afford the basic necessities because they have chosen to have these blessings and now can’t provide because they can’t get a job because they don’t have child care,” Ritchey said. “I think a combination of baby steps will snowball and have an affect in a larger sense and I think it has brought awareness to some of the employers around here.

“I hope that this can bring awareness and possibly open up opportunities and avenues for employers,” she added. “It affects everyone across the board.” It’s a problem Kirk Chadwick, general manager for Americas for Fischbach USA, a study sponsor, says has been prevalent for far too long and one he is eager to help solve.

“In order to make really good decision, you have to have good information,” Chadwick said of the study’s results. “You have to have data before you can understand the needs and this is a complicated challenge and we face it everyday trying to find qualified, skilled employees to work in our 24-hour a day, 7-day a week operation.” Chadwick said the information can lead to revelation and opportunity.

“What excites me is the engagement of these government, industry and nongovernment organizations coming together to solve this problem with a lot of passion and desire to really come up with solutions,” Chadwick said. “It’s a hard problem because there not a one-size-fits-all solution.”


London said while the task force now will dig in and get to work, it is not a problem that will be solved immediately, London said. “We have between now and 2033 roughly, and we have a capacity outlook of 4,000 seats in child care,” London said. “If we can grow childcare capacity 3% annually, plus add some affordability, it has a compounding effect to have the amount of capacity we need by 2033.”

After the data was released Monday, the task force held its first meeting to prioritize recommendations from the report. It will meet monthly and consists of members from the LTADD service area and Hart County.


Those members are Charles Aull of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; Lance Blanford of Bardstown City Schools; Daniel Carney of Springfield-Washington County Economic Development Authority; Tom Carrico of Baptist Health Hardin, a study sponsor; Sarah Caven of Springfield-Washington County Economic Development Authority); Chadwick; Jacob Druen (Baptist Health Hardin; Meredith Dubree of Breck County United; Daniel Flory of Altec, a study sponsor; Andy Games of Elizabethtown/Hardin County Industrial Foundation, a study sponsor, Ashley Gibson of Wonderschool; Annie Hamilton of Meade County Chamber of Commerce; Heavrin; Brooklyn Leep of Marion County Industrial Authority; Trish Niles of Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board; Rachel Richey an impacted mother; Kendra Scott of Hardin County Chamber of Commerce and Christa Shouse of United Way of Central Kentucky, a study sponsor.


“We are going to produce solutions for local governments, state government and private employers,” London said. “We are here to help solve this problem, not just check a box because we had a study and say, ‘Yay, we completed a study and now you have information.’ We are working to solve a problem within our region.” When the work is done, Heavrin hopes to “make real change to people’s lives.”

“This really can be a generational change for families,” Heavrin said. “I think if we can get people back to work it helps our local economy but it helps the individual lives and that’s why we’re all here, is to make sure people get to live their best life here in Elizabethtown, the Lincoln Trail Area Development District and Hart County.”

Source: The News-Enterprise