IEDA, Iowa Women’s Foundation partnering on child care

The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) and the Iowa Women’s Foundation (IWF) have hired a former economic development leader to help Iowa businesses develop family-friendly child care policies and improve access to child care.

Sheri Penney, the former economic development director for Mitchell County, has accepted the new role of employer engagement director for IWF. The new full-time position is part of a pilot project created through a partnership between IWF and IEDA. 

The partnership and the new role’s creation help deliver on a key recommendation of Gov. Kim Reynold’s Child Care Task Force, which convened last year to address the child care shortage in Iowa.

“This partnership with the Iowa Women’s Foundation is another recommendation made by the Child Care Task Force being implemented to help improve the child care shortage in our state,” the governor said in a news release. “We know there is no one solution that will provide more availability to quality, affordable child care, but rather a variety of solutions, many of which we already have in place.”

Ms. Reynolds said the new employer engagement director position, along with a $25 million Child Care Business Incentive Grant announced last month, “will help employers deliver child care solutions to their employees.”

In her former economic development position, Ms. Penney worked closely with Mitchell County businesses to find ways to increase access to quality, affordable child care in the area. An experienced child care provider herself, she helped provide valuable insight toward IWF’s mission to make child care more affordable while ensuring that providers earn a fair and competitive wage.

“Sheri’s expertise provides a unique perspective on the child care shortage as well as how to address it through this new position,” said Dawn Oliver Wiand, the foundation’s CEO. “She is a collaborator, a connector and a visionary. We are thrilled to have her join the IWF team.”

While Iowa is a national leader in the share of households with all parents working, the state has too few options for child care, which is one of the six barriers to self-sufficiency IWF is focusing on improving. The state lost 33% of its child care businesses over the past five years, and 23% of Iowans live in a child care desert – an area with a shortage of licensed providers. 

The state estimates that the child care shortage costs Iowa’s economy about $935 million each year in lost tax revenue, worker absences, and employee turnover.

To help businesses close the gap, IWF and Iowa business leaders formed the Iowa Business and Child Care Coalition. The coalition created a comprehensive toolkit of child care solutions for businesses ranging from subsidized child care to flexible spending accounts and on-site child care.

Ms. Penney’s duties will include helping Iowa businesses understand the economic impact of child care, assess their needs and helping them understand solutions in the toolkit. She will also serve as liaison between regional Child Care Resources and Referral representatives and other partners to connect businesses to resources.

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