“We can’t find anybody to work” is a lament I frequently hear. I heard it most recently on a tour of the Kiwanis Day Care Center located in the West End. After almost 100 years of service to our community, the Center’s mission to provide affordable childcare for working parents is in jeopardy because of rising costs and the increasing difficulty of finding qualified staff.  

Their challenge, similar to that of many businesses, is pretty easy to understand. Following the pandemic, there were fewer people in the workforce. Employers enticed people back on the job with higher wages and offset the increased expense by raising prices. As customers absorbed these price hikes by paying more for groceries and everyday essentials, they demanded higher wages, leading employers to once again raise prices. This vicious cycle is one of the causes of inflation. 

For many heavily subsidized industries, such as childcare centers, raising customer prices doesn’t solve the problem because a vast majority of their revenue is determined by government policies. They are dependent on a flawed reimbursement system that has forced many childcare providers to close their doors. To address the crisis, federal and state lawmakers are contemplating a shift in the reimbursement model from attendance-based to enrollment-based, aiming to stabilize the industry. This change will benefit many childcare facilities and help families be able to afford quality care for their children. 

I support lawmakers making these changes because childcare is an essential part of our economic ecosystem, and the Kiwanis Day Care Center is an important asset for our city. It was established in 1930, when Judge Thomas H. Harvey gifted the building in his will to the City of Huntington, asking that it be used for the benefit of underprivileged children. The city partnered with the Kiwanis Club of Huntington to create a childcare center. The city still owns the building, and the continued partnership has allowed the Kiwanis Club of Huntington to operate West Virginia’s oldest continuously running day care center rent free. However, without modifications to the reimbursement system, they face an uncertain future.

Patrick with Kiwanis Day Care Assistant Director, Bendie Blair (left), and Director, Amy Frazier (right)

Finding workers is a much harder problem to solve, not just for day care centers but for all local businesses. West Virginia’s labor force participation is the lowest in the nation and has been for my entire lifetime. The rate for West Virginia women is almost 10 points lower than for men, placing our women among the least active in the workforce of any demographic. There are many complex reasons for our low workforce participation, and one of them is the lack of childcare. 

Raising children is the responsibility of both parents, and families navigate this in a variety of ways. Some choose for one caregiver to stay home full-time. Others make childcare arrangements so they can work. No matter how families provide for their children, studies show that in today’s society, childcare duties disproportionately fall to women regardless of their job or working status. 

Unfortunately, it is also common for families to discover that working sometimes doesn’t make financial sense because the money they make isn’t enough to cover the cost of childcare. At the Kiwanis Day Care, for instance, depending on your situation and your child’s age, it costs roughly $3 to $4 dollars per hour per child. For someone making $10 to $15 an hour, the math doesn’t always add up. 

If this were a simple problem, it would have already been fixed. Unfortunately, a mayor can’t magically produce high quality caregivers who love doing difficult work for very low wages. What I can do as a Republican mayor is encourage our Republican-led state legislature and federal congressional delegation to revise reimbursement policies so our childcare facilities have a better chance of staying open. I can also tell you about the ways in which I actively support women in the workplace, so you can get a sense of how I think about these issues that affect women and how I am likely to approach them in the future. 

For the past decade, I’ve owned Service Pump & Supply, a company that solves water problems for the mining, water, and wastewater industries. We’ve made concerted efforts to hire women into roles that have traditionally been male dominated, including pump mechanics, welders, and motor winders. We’ve placed women in leadership positions and invested in their career development. I would hire many more women today if we could find them. 

In 2017, before remote work became widely accessible, I co-founded CentralApp Technologies with the belief that there are capable individuals throughout Appalachia who can excel as computer programmers but are held back by their reluctance to relocate, the need for flexible schedules, or the responsibility to care for their children or parents at home. To bridge the knowledge gap, we offered training. As a result, our company now boasts a workforce with more than 50% women. This achievement significantly surpasses the norm in most tech companies, where women typically fill less than 25% of the positions.

I’ve also been deliberate in my efforts to help women reach their professional aspirations. I’ve mentored women throughout their careers. Helped them launch their own companies. Invested in their startups. Connected them with my professional network. Championed their inclusion on boards. These are standard practices in the business world that routinely happen for men but are sometimes critical missing pieces that prevent women from advancing. 

If we want to make Huntington a better place to live and work, we need more people, both women and men, actively participating in the workforce. This is especially true to support the influx of companies that will be drawn here because of our new cybersecurity institute at Marshall University. To meet the hiring needs of these often male-dominated tech companies, we will need all hands on deck.

To ensure women can fill their fair share of these well-paid positions, addressing childcare is essential. Encouraging companies to adopt flexible hours and better work-from-home policies can significantly ease the balance between work and family life. Improving Huntington’s childcare capacity is not just about helping families; it’s a strategic move to boost our labor force participation rates and drive economic growth. Imagine a Huntington where every parent has the support they need to thrive both at home and at work. That’s the future I want to build together.

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