Operating a medical technology firm and a child care might seem like incongruous pursuits, but not so for FHC, based in the town of Bowdoin.
More than a decade ago, the company’s founder, Frederick Haer, says he realized that employees needed dependable child care, so he opened one. Morning Edition Host Irwin Gratz spoke with Haer about why he decided to create a child care center in-house.
This story is part of Maine Public’s Deep Dive on child care. To see the rest of the series, visit mainepublic.org/childcare.
Haer: Well, there weren’t many close by. And it seemed like the most convenient thing to do. We had space, our business is actually in a school that had been closed. So maybe it was in the air or something there that we thought about child care.
Gratz: One of the issues we heard about while reporting for the series is the cost of child care. How do you keep that manageable for your employees?
Well, that’s a real struggle. Even in rural areas of Maine, it’s very expensive. And I guess you can say you really can’t control the cost. I mean, you can try to minimize them. But it’s also a challenge to offer programs that do more than just warehouse kids.
If you don’t mind my asking, how much did all of that cost your company to implement?
We were too dumb to know how much it was really going to cost us, from some of the other costs associated with it. And so that’s how you get into things and then decide it’s worth it.
We have also heard that it’s difficult to attract qualified child care providers, what did you find, as you were staffing this child care center?
We were lucky to have someone that had some experience in helping to evaluate people that were really truly interested in stimulating the children while they were in their care. We did want to have a day care that was opened not just when schools were open, but when schools closed for vacation, like over holidays, vacation times and summers. Because that creates another problem, even if there is a day care that’s consistent with just the school.
Has it changed over the years?
We started off thinking we only had to look after the children of our people that worked for us. And at that point, we only had a need for six or seven kids. But as things changed, and also we became aware that we really wanted to offer programs like music and exercise, we needed more people. So we had allowed one neighbor to bring her child over. We got the idea of expanding, and now we are registered to have up to 49 children.
I’m just curious, have you talked to other businesses about this, about what you’ve done, about the issues they may be having regarding child care?
Honestly, the trend is to go the opposite direction. A lot of people are getting out of the day care business. And a lot of companies that could afford it, aren’t. It is a problem, both from liability issues and then tax issues. I’d have to say that I saw this is an opportunity maybe to let people know it’s worth it. But in general, the easy way out is not to do it.
Well, it kind of leads me to one of my last questions, which is what policies could government be pursuing that would make it easier for you to continue to provide this service and for other businesses to provide those child care needs?
I would say the biggest thing they could do was recognize the business benefits from this and to make programs available that start the support for raising children before kindergarten. There are companies that could do this, if they had a little support.
Do you see a difference in employees who know that their kids are nearby and taken care of?
Absolutely, but I think that would be expected. But what I see more is how much our other employees enjoy having the kids in the school. We have graduation for kids when they move from kindergarten to preschool and things like that. And we find that our people like to go down and see that. What surprised me most was there isn’t any resentment within our company for providing that service.
I was gonna ask if it’s just fun sometimes to just go down and watch the kids play.
Absolutely. It’s a great tonic. They always seem to have a smile.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Maine Public’s Deep Dive: Childcare in Maine is made possible, in part, by the John T. Gorman Foundation and United Way's Women United.