Sunday, May 13, 2001

On-site day care keeps
working moms happy


But few area firms offer it

By Amy Higgins
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Nobody does this, Alma Cochran says. In her years in the work force and as a mother, she's never seen anything like it. Indeed, Connector Manufacturing is a rarity both in Greater Cincinnati and nationwide. Employees at the Hamilton factory work just offices away from where their children play at one of the area's few on-site child care centers.

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Alma Cochran (right) visits son Aaron. At left, day care director Valita Bird plays with Carly Strack while her son, Samuel, sleeps.
(Dick Swaim photos)
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        “As a mother, it is very rewarding to know your child is safe and to know this matters to the person who is employing you,” Ms. Cochran said.

        It matters, yes — but it also makes good business sense, employers who offer child care say. Costs can be tax-deductible, and employee productivity and loyalty can skyrocket.

        “What a better way to keep women employees around,” said Mary Polking, director of the child care center at Fredric's Corp., a beauty supply distributor with mostly female staff. The Fairfield business is the only other for-profit employer in Greater Cincinnati to offer on-site child care.

        According to 4C for Children (formerly called Comprehensive Community Child Care), there are 26 employer-supported child care centers in Greater Cincinnati. Twenty-three of those are non-profit or public sector employers, such as hospitals, universities or the federal government.

        “We were really surprised it was that long of a list,” Sallie Westheimer, 4C executive director, said.

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Bill Boehm, owner of Connector Manufacturing, enjoys visiting the kids. They call him Grandpa.
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        The largest employer on the list is the federal government. The IRS' center in Covington alone can hold up to 188 children. Child care centers for other federal employees operate in downtown, Sharonville and Corryville.

        Spokesman Chris Kerns said the IRS was the first federal agency to offer on-site child care, starting in the late 1980s. IRS Commissioner Lawrence Gibbs said at the time it demonstrated a commitment to keep quality employees.

        The 12-year-old Treasure House Child Care Center still helps employee retention. A recent day when 4-year-old Stacy got sick in the car on the way to the Covington facility illustrated why Sue Allen's got a good deal.

        “Having children under school age, I think it's important for me to have an employer that has on-site child care,” said Ms. Allen, a 15-year IRS analyst.

        She cleaned up Stacy and sent her home with her father, settled 17-month-old Ronnie into his classroom and got to her office in minimal time.

        As productive as that set-up is, only three employer-sponsored child care centers in Greater Cincinnati are offered by for-profit corporations. The biggest of those, Procter & Gamble's $2.5 million Mount Auburn facility, is on a site leased from Children's Hospital Medical Center. It's a 10-minute drive from the company's downtown headquarters and farther from P&G's other facilities.

        That leaves Connector Manufacturing and Fredric's Corp. as the only two Greater Cincinnati for-profit employers with on-site child care.

        “I have two children myself,” said Frederic Holzberger, owner of Fredric's and a one-time single father. “I only wish I would have been able to afford a day care center when my kids were younger.”

        Mr. Holzberger, whose children are now grown, said he started the center to help attract and retain high-quality professionals in the female-dominated beauty supply business. But now, seeing the success and gratitude of his employees, he considers it one of the best things he's done in his life.

        The scarcity of similar sites here is in line with national statistics. A survey by the Society for Human Resources Management shows only 5 percent of employers nationwide offer on-site child care. Less than 1 percent of manufacturing employers do.

        As Ms. Cochran said: Nobody does this.

        Bill Boehm, owner of Connector Manufacturing, said he first saw an on-site child care at one of his customer's facilities in Georgia several years ago. His company makes electrical connectors for use in products such as circuit boards.

        The memory of the Georgia center stuck with him as he was planning a new factory in Hamilton, and considering ways to boost employee productivity. Absenteeism was high, with time taken for pick ups and drop offs from faraway child care centers.

        “They were always coming up with problems that detracted from work,” he said.

        And now?

        “Absenteeism is almost disappeared,” he said. “Parents are anxious to come to work, and they work hard. It's amazing the difference in attitude.”

        Still, that came after he spent about $100,000 to develop the 2,500-square-foot child care center, which accommodates 28 kids. Even after parents pay a 20 percent discount (about $75 a week for infants, for example), the center loses $10,000 to $15,000 a year.

        “The catch is I'm not in it to make money,” Mr. Boehm said, comparing the center to other kinds of employee benefits. He also said it ultimately saves him money in employee turnover.

        Mr. Boehm said he saves up to $4,000 in retraining costs every time a mother comes back from maternity leave because she can keep her child close by. But he also never imagined how popular the child care center would be or how much he himself would enjoy it. With his children working for the company, his own grandchildren are in the care center. When he goes to visit them, all the children able to speak call him Grandpa.

        Center director Valita Bird said the children's favorite part of the day is when “Grandpa” comes to visit. Most afternoons, he allows them to march single-file into his office for a piece of candy from their special jar. The children also often visit their parents' offices.

        “I love all those kids,” Mr. Boehm said. “I have a good time with them. ... I never dreamed of it being that much fun.”

        But the thrill is even greater for parents like Alma and Nathan Cochran. Both Connector employees, they are often at work by 6:30 a.m. with 4-year-old Adam and 4-month-old Aaron in tow. The center is open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

        Ms. Cochran said she takes a lunch break, plus short morning and afternoon breaks, to check in on the children. Mr. Boehm encourages it, she said, and she thanks him for it constantly.

        “He makes sure you as an employee are happy because you will in return give him 100 percent,” Ms. Cochran said.

       



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