When you’re a Fortune 500 global branded food company headquartered in Austin, Minnesota, a rural community of 25,000, child care isn’t necessarily the main topic of conversation. But if you “believe that good business and good stewardship go hand in hand,” like Hormel Foods does, then child care can easily top the agenda.
Inspired by its founder more than 130 years ago to make great food and to also make a difference to its team members, customers, partners, and the communities where it operates, Hormel Foods has readily sought out innovative solutions to meet challenges.
Recruiting & Retaining Workers
“Child care was becoming a barrier for attracting talent for us – not only attracting talent into our organization but attracting talent to move internally to our main offices and facilities in Austin,” says Angie Bissen, Manager of HR Business Partners at Hormel Foods.
As the workforce ages, Boomer-age workers are giving way to Millennials and Gen Z employees, many of whom are raising new families and need child support, especially for very young children.
With four locations in the area, including its world headquarters, a large innovation and R&D facility and one of its largest plant locations (the size of 23 football fields), Austin is an important site for career development, employee advancement, and professional enrichment.
But lack of child care wasn’t just a problem in recruiting. It posed a retention challenge for parents, especially women. Mothers were running out of FMLA leave and requesting extensions because they couldn’t find care. Their only alternative was to leave the workforce entirely. (That’s not uncommon. A Bipartisan Policy Center report shows that 89% of parents in rural areas say child care responsibilities influenced their decisions to not work).
Plus, as Bissen points out, it helps to look at child care holistically: “Providing a child care solution not only helps parents, it helps the workforce as a whole. It helps with productivity. It helps to lower absenteeism. If I'm an empty nester on a team and my coworkers are calling out of work because they don't have child care, that impacts me.” (A recent survey from Bright Horizons found that more than half of STEM-related industry parents of young children said child care difficulties are impacting their attendance at work).
Creating the New Center
Set to open in 2024, the company’s new center will have 130 slots, with corporate staff and production professionals leveraging many of them. That will create openings at home and smaller centers for other community parents. At least half of the center’s capacity will be reserved for infants and toddlers – a critical need throughout the region. To make it available to lower-income earners, child care assistance program funds will be accepted. The center will be centrally located, convenient for parents, and readily accessible for everyone.
Getting to success was a journey that included outreach to different parts of the community – the school system, not-for-profit entities, local government agencies, etc.—which revealed that the company wasn’t the only organization feeling the effects of a care shortage. “A lot of other employers in our community were facing child care challenges,” says Bissen. That’s not surprising. The Center for Rural Policy and Development reports that child care shortages stretch across 80 counties in greater Minnesota.
The primary cause of the shortage in greater Minnesota is that family care providers, who supply the bulk of child care in rural regions, are leaving the field at a much faster rate than people entering it. And the situation could get worse. The Century Foundation (TCF) estimates that with Federal assistance provided through the American Rescue Plan ending, more than three million children nationwide will lose access to child care. TCF projects that in Minnesota alone, 70,763 children could lose child care and 2,741 programs could close.
Fully aware of the child care landscape, Bissen says, “While we have been really intentional in trying to address the needs of Hormel Foods families, we also want to fill a need in the community. But we don’t want to duplicate the kind of offerings that already exist. Child care is not one-size-fits-all. So, while we expand the overall supply, we want to increase the educational quality and provide the type of professionally-run child care that team members being recruited from larger cities are looking for. We’re thrilled to have Bright Horizons as our partner in bringing a high-quality, NAEYC (National Association of Education of Young Children) certified program to our team members and our community.”
Building awareness and coming to consensus around the issue of affordable child care required time, commitment, and a collaborative approach. Says Bissen, “Quality child care requires the involvement of employers, parents, care providers, and, in our case, local government, since we wanted to open the center to the community.”
Educating decision-makers was an important step. “Lots of business leaders are educated about supply and demand and believe that they don’t need to intervene because the market will fix itself,” says Bissen. “Hormel Foods makes great food. That's what we do. We don't run child care centers. So, when we started a conversation with our leaders about child care, we recognized the importance of finding champions and bringing in partners like Bright Horizons who had the expertise to help educate our leadership team and also had the experience to deliver the service we aspired to provide.”
The results speak for themselves. Not only does the new center help fulfill Hormel Foods team members’ child care needs, it also provides an innovative solution for ongoing workforce sustainability at Hormel Foods as well as enables community-wide economic growth. Through diligence and a collaborative effort, Bissen and her team have helped Hormel Foods develop a child care center that incorporates the company’s founding values: “integrity, an uninterrupted quest for quality and innovation, a respect for one another, and a commitment to community.”
Want to learn more or ready to invest in an employer-sponsored child care center? Check out Building Your One-of-A-Kind Child Care Center: A Step-by-Step Guide, drawing from Bright Horizons 35+ years supporting top organizations with the creation of successful on-site child care centers.