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Executives Partnering to Invest in Children: Business Leaders Acting and Advocating for Early Childhood

March 7, 2022

Nicole Riehl, President and CEO of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children (EPIC), contributed to this blog about the benefit of the business community investing in early childhood education.

Nicole Riehl

Nicole joined Executives Partnering to Invest in Children (EPIC) as President & CEO in September of 2019. Her experience spans across the private and non-profit sectors, having begun her early childhood career as a classroom teacher at the on-site employer child care program for StorageTek in Louisville, CO. After working several years in the financial sector for a large national homebuilder, Nicole returned to early childhood and supported the quality ratings and onboarding of over 200 child care programs participating in the Denver Preschool Program after it was authorized by Denver voters in 2006. Her work grew to include the management of quality improvement initiatives and grant contracts at Qualistar Colorado, which sparked her passion for non-profit leadership and management. Most recently, Nicole held the position of Chief Operating Officer at Denver’s Early Childhood Council, where she helped build a team of 35 staff and an organizational operating budget of $5.7 million over the course of eight years.

Nicole earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Management from the University of Colorado at Denver and a graduate certificate in Non-Profit Management and Leadership from Duke University.

At Executives Partnering to Invest in Children (EPIC), we know the benefit of investing in children early in life. Our founders – a group of Colorado-based business executives, CEOs, and philanthropic and nonprofit leaders -believe that we, as a society, as an economy, and as a group of employers, will pay less towards providing services for children and families down the road if we invest early on.

Our purpose is twofold. We aim to 1) attract and retain the skilled talent that we need for our growing economy and the business community by being family friendly and making early childhood investments a priority, and 2) build a skilled future workforce by ensuring that children have high-quality early education experiences to reach their full potential down the road.

Improving Access and Affordability

As the business community’s nonpartisan voice for early childhood, EPIC leads efforts to build infrastructure and advance policies that support our mission and increase access to quality, affordable early childhood care and education.  In many cases, the talented workers employers seek are not able to enter the workforce because they don’t have access to quality early education or care for their children, or they can’t afford it. This is especially true with families who have infants and toddlers given the lack of services and affordability for those age groups. Our focus on accessibility and affordability has led to work on policies that address significant barriers to entry for early care and education industry professionals in addition to workplace benefits and community infrastructure initiatives.

Our recent work has tackled access and capacity issues for families, including policies that address issues for family child care homes and child care centers in Colorado. In 2020 and 2021, we worked with other organizations to pass legislation that provided relief to individuals who encountered barriers to providing in-home care due to homeowner associations and zoning codes. Colorado statute now prevents homeowners associations from excluding family child care homes in their bylaws, and new state law now requires that all municipalities and counties apply residential zoning and building codes to family child care homes, regardless of the circumstance. EPIC is also co-leading an effort in the 2021 Colorado legislative session to create a property tax exemption for non-profit child care businesses that lease their facilities, thus incentivizing developers and landlords to retain child care tenants while supporting the affordability of real estate.

When it comes to affordability, EPIC is consistently focused on working with the private sector, employers, and business to think about solutions. We work with a wide range of employers and community organizations to provide needs assessments, feasibility studies, financial pro-forma modeling, and project management for child care infrastructure/facility projects. Based on US Chamber of Commerce data showing that employers would be more likely to help alleviate child care challenges for employees if there were incentivized to do so, EPIC helped create the new $8.8 million Employer-Based Child Care Grant Program in Colorado for employers that create onsite or near-site child care facilities. Grants are prioritized based on their focus on serving infants and toddlers as well as on serving employees who earn wages below the median household income. Employers such as healthcare institutions, manufacturing organizations, long-term healthcare facilities, ski resorts, and food halls were motivated by the grant program and stepped up to create child care solutions for their employees and local communities.

A First-of-its-kind Employer-Based Design Lab

Employers want to create solutions for their employees, but the lack of familiarity with the child industry and the “how” of creating child care can be a challenge. Employers often have questions about the type of real estate needed, which governance models might work, how to select an operating partner, what the long terms costs will be, and how to mitigate risk. To address these employer needs and questions, EPIC created an employer-based child care design lab in Colorado, comprised of 10 employers/partnerships that met for group learning sessions and received individualized consulting sessions over 5 months, which brought employers from concept to completion through the full process of planning and creating onsite or near-site child care. The lab included a wide range of topics including real estate, governance, quality standards, operations models/partners, workforce, and much more. Financial modeling was a significant component of the lab so employers could understand the true cost of offering high-quality early care and education, including the cost of paying appropriate wages to early childhood educators, and how to keep tuition rates affordable for families.

If all design lab projects are successful, 500 new slots for infant-through-preschool care will be created in Colorado, with the majority of those being infant/toddler slots. Grants provided by the state for employer-led projects will also leverage, on average, two to three times the amount of investment from other public and private investments.

Helping Other States with this Effort     

The EPIC team is excited to model and launch this work in Colorado and has already heard from six other states with interest in replicating the model. In addition to iterating and improving on the model based on feedback from the first design lab, EPIC is also working on a way to help other states implement their own design lab model to support employers in this work. EPIC team members have also served as a resource for partners in other states, often sharing information on how the organization was founded and ways to harness the influence and voices of business leaders to make early childhood a priority and make sure that it’s being elevated to the level it deserves.

It’s the Responsibility of Employers

It is imperative to have all partners – philanthropy, government, and the business and private sector – at the table when it comes to alleviating the child care crisis. We must also encourage employers who want to help to take incremental steps towards being more family friendly and thinking about the equity implications of how families with young children are being served. Not every employee needs or wants child care benefits; however, as a matter of equity, these benefits are a critical employee support. The workforce that employers are desperately trying to find are largely the parents who cannot participate in it because they either can’t find child care, or they can’t afford it. Every employer should be doing something to address these issues because what’s good for children is good for business.

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