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Child care, housing still local hurdles

FAIRMONT — Two ongoing workforce issues in Fairmont — child care and housing — were the focus of the Fairmont Economic Development Authority earlier this week.

Linsey Preuss, economic development coordinator, updated the board on continuing efforts to incentivize new child care providers, as well as retaining existing providers through training and support. Fairmont, like many other communities in the state, has a severe shortage of child care slots, particularly for infants, which has forced some parents to leave their jobs.

“Another idea I think we should consider, we have our non-reportable loan fund available. Maybe we could do some type of program to help both new and existing child care providers,” she said. “I want feedback from you on what you might consider before I put together a potential program.”

Preuss said other communities have offered a wide spectrum of inducements, from forgivable loans of $1,000 for an in-home provider to a to $35,000 for a child care center.

“It’s really all over the board on how they are incentivizing,” she said. “I would love to see a forgivable loan program, but I want to make sure we include the existing providers. A lot of the programs I looked at were only for new providers.”

Funds could potentially be used for equipment, updating a home or even purchasing replacing furniture and flooring.

“I would like to see us do those things so that they know we’re supporting them. If we have any close, that’s going to just make our issue worse,” Preuss said.

Amy Long suggested one program focused on retention efforts and a parallel program targeting new providers.

Andy Noll, FEDA chairman, cautioned against stopgap measures which would only provide a short-term solution.

“You can fix a problem temporarily, but I also would hate to have them become reliant on us for day-to-day operations,” he said. “Maybe we could help indirectly by taking things off their plate to free up money for other things.”

The idea of offering small improvement loans with interest-only payments and potential for forgiving the loan were suggested.

The subject will be discussed further at the next FEDA executive meeting.

Turning to another issue facing the area’s workforce, Preuss said the city’s housing study should be completed shortly. She recommended a joint meeting with representatives from FEDA, the City Council and the local Housing and Redevelopment Authority to set priorities on where to focus housing development in the city and to eliminate any duplication of efforts.

“We can see where we want to concentrate whether that be affordable housing or senior living,” she said.

Building housing attractive to independent seniors would open up what she called “the sweet spot” of single-family homes, those valued between $150,000 and $200,000, which are in high demand in today’s market. Features such as underground parking and in-unit laundry would be important to the older demographic.

“The amenities are really what’s going to be driving this project,” Preuss said.

In another matter, Preuss told the board she recently spent three days at a consultant’s forum for site selectors, those professionals tasked with finding a location for new businesses. With the divisiveness of the City Council in mind, she asked those consultants if public turmoil could impact a site selection.

“The answer was yes, absolutely,” she said. “The reason is neither the consultant nor the company want to go into a council meeting or a school board meeting and have it feel very uncomfortable, even if they agree on the project but don’t agree on general policies.”

She wanted board members to be aware of the reaction from the developers’ side.

“We need to be aware that this is affecting us. When a site selector or company is looking at us, they’re taking that into consideration,” Preuss said.

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