For three months, Andrea Pawlowski was skipping meals to see her daughter. Every day on her lunch hour, she would drive like crazy to a day care center just to steal some time with her new baby, Natalie. “I was not eating, but it was not important. I needed to go see my daughter,” she said.
Now, with Natalie 15 months old, Pawlowski doesn’t require that daily fix. But if she happens to get a craving, it will soon be easier than ever to see her daughter.
Pawlowski works in the recruiting office at Scottsdale Healthcare, one of two major Scottsdale employers planning to build on-site child care centers in 2007. Mayo Clinic Scottsdale also has a center in the works.
While both employers claim they are simply responding to the needs of their workers, they also admit the services will make them more attractive in the Valley’s competitive job market.
In 2000, the latest numbers available, there were more jobs in Scottsdale than there were laborers. Employers in the city are offering perks like on-site or reduced-cost child care to entice workers.
According to a national study of employers conducted last year by the New Yorkbased Families and Work Institute, only 7 percent of the 1,092 companies surveyed provided child care at or near the work site. But 45 percent provided assistance plans to help employees pay for child care.
With so many employment opportunities available in the city, Scottsdale employers will have to sweeten their incentives to keep the many workers who commute to the city, said Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce President Rick Kidder.
“Scottsdale businesses have to offer more to employees than other places,” he said.
So far, the Mayo Clinic and Scottsdale Healthcare seem to be ahead of the curve, but more businesses are catching on. The top five employers in the city all offer some sort of child care assistance.
General Dynamics has a center in Gilbert that is available to its Scottsdale employees.
The Scottsdale Unified School District offers care for elementary-aged children in its after-school programs. Those services also are open to the community, but district employees get a 30 percent discount on the cost.
And city employees can deposit money — tax free — into an account to pay for child care that is later reimbursed.
Local agency statistics show the need for child care is great.
The metro Phoenix branch of the Association for Supportive Child Care, which helps residents locate child care centers near homes or work, reports 3,500 to 4,000 families per month contact the organization.
Both the Mayo Clinic and Scottsdale Healthcare surveyed their employees before planning child care centers. They found the need at the top of the list for those with children — and those without.
“When a staff member can’t come to work, it impacts everyone in the unit,” said Matt McElrath, Mayo Clinic human resources chairman. “It has a ripple effect to our entire work force.”
Both centers found their employees had varying needs in a care center.
“We’re a 24/7 operation,” said Carol Henderson, Scottsdale Healthcare vice president of human resources. “A lot of child care facilities do not operate before 6 a.m. or after 6 p.m. And not very many are open on the weekends.”
The company identified 500 children that could benefit from its program. The site will be at its hospital on Shea Boulevard, about eight miles from both its Osborn campus to the south and a planned Thompson Peak Campus to the north.
Child care provider Summa Associates will run the center seven days a week and provide care from infant to kindergarten age. The $1.7 million center is slated to open in the summer.
Mayo Clinic’s facility will open at its hospital near Scottsdale Road and Loop 101. The $3 million center will have extended hours and accommodate 130 children. It will be directed by Bright Horizons and is expected to open by Labor Day.
In general, provided child care service seems to increase job satisfaction and lower stress, said Arizona State University professor Nancy Jurik, an expert on gender and work issues.
But there can be drawbacks.
“It is expensive and not all employers can afford to provide it,” she wrote in an email. “That means that some workers and employers miss out on the productivity-enhancing aspects of on-site child care.”
The Families and Work Institute study said on-site centers have significant costs to employers and are more common among those large enough to justify the investment.
But, for many, it’s more than spending money to build and staff a building.
“Day care is an investment in the happiness of the employees,” Kidder said.
Andrea Pawlowski has no trouble hiding her excitement.
“I love my job, and it’s not like I’m independently wealthy and could stop work tomorrow,” she said. “It’s nice because as a parent, it’s a hard thing having my child in the care of someone else.”
Child care and the five largest employers in Scottsdale
1. Scottsdale Healthcare; 4,400 employees; on-site child care by 2007
2. General Dynamics; 4,000 employees; child care center at its Gilbert site is available to Scottsdale employees
3. Mayo Clinic; 3,995 employees; on-site child care by 2007
4. Scottsdale Unified School District; 3,500 employees; discount on after-school care program for school-aged children
5. Scottsdale; 2,191 employees; tax-free spending accounts for child care, with reimbursement up to $5,000
Source: Scottsdale Economic Trends Report 2005. Employee numbers as of May 2005