Childcare Shortage in Central Oregon Worsens Amid Pandemic Shutdown

Pre-Covid, the need for more childcare opportunities and facilities was a critical issue in Central Oregon. The current need is even greater with the combination of childcare businesses that shut down and the number of people relocating to the area. Estimated childcare slots declined this year from 5,000 to 1,600 equating to a 1:3 ratio of spaces available to those put on a waitlist.

Amid this childcare desert, Bend’s City Council implemented a 70% exemption in transportation SDC fees for childcare providers. In December 2020, they voted unanimously to waive 100% of these fees.

“I don’t know if the general public understands   that it’s as expensive to open a childcare center as it is to open a restaurant. Everyone understands how capital intensive it is to open a restaurant and the risk that comes with that: It is hard to find space, it is hard to find and keep staff, and it is highly regulated. There’s a reason most restaurants fail,” says NAI Cascade Principal Broker and Partner, Jenn Limoges, CCIM.

“Both require extensive capital because of the costs to retrofit a space for such a customized need. The Department of Education requires extensive review of the kitchen, for example, and quite possibility a commercial kitchen layout and hood. Ingress/egress, fire-code suppression and other high-occupancy requirements must be met.  Both need outdoor space for patios or playgrounds and buildings need to be extremely well-parked and that can be a nuisance to neighboring tenants. The risk is high. But unlike restaurants who have some flexibility in their profit margins by increasing prices or expanding and contracting their menu.  Unfortunately, childcare profits are more fixed.”

Jenn believes that the onus is on the municipalities and those that enact the intensive code requirements to provide opportunities and grants to counterbalance the intensive capital requirements for these improvements.

Jenn’s client, Cascade Blue LLC dba Alphabet Academy Eastside, reports they are at full capacity with a two year wait list as they work to obtain financing for a second location. “Many of the calls I receive are from frantic parents that are at a loss when it comes to what they are going to do with their young children. They are moving from California, Washington, Texas, the east coast and beyond. They have found a great job, a beautiful house but when it comes to their children, they have no idea where they will take them.”

In support of this critical childcare issue, BEDAB, Bend Economic Development Advisory Board is having strategic subcommittee meetings throughout June and July 2021 to specifically focus on potential solutions to best support the childcare business sector in the community. “In addition, anyone from the Childcare industry is encouraged to apply as an alternate member of BEDAB when positions open in June,” says NAI Cascade Broker Karen Koppel, CCIM who has been highly involved with BEDAB and is a part of the strategic subcommittee. BEDAB’s work to accelerate the childcare business in Central Oregon also aims to enable the workforce that rely on childcare to get back to work post shutdown.

Meanwhile, Redmond Proficiency Academy (RPA) found their own symbiotic solution this year: “The need for high quality, affordable child care in our community is acute. RPA recognized that need and stood up RPA Learn & Play to serve our employees and our community. Our childcare program also serves as a learning laboratory for students in our Early Childhood Education Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, allowing interested and qualified students to serve as interns in our childcare program.” – Jon Bullock, RPA Executive Director