There are too many deserts in the 7 Rivers Region.

Not the arid, lack-of- rainfall desert that commonly comes to mind, but something called a child-care desert. And we need to change that climate.

Chris Hardie


A child-care desert is defined as any census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that contains either no child-care providers or so few options that there are more than three times as many children as licensed child-care slots.

The Center for American Progress has created a website — — that maps child care access across the entire country.

Statewide in Wisconsin, 54 percent of all residents live in a child-care desert. In Minnesota, 26 percent live in a child-care desert and in Iowa it’s 23 percent.

It’s even more of a challenge in rural areas of Wisconsin, where 68 percent of families live in areas without enough licensed child-care providers. There are parts of the 7 Rivers Region — such as Jackson County — where there are 68 children per licensed child-care slot. Then there are parts of the region where there are no child-care providers.

The shortage of child care was identified as one of the major factors keeping parents out of the workforce or working part-time, as identified in our Workforce Innovation for a Strong Economy plan.

The 7 Rivers Alliance is partnering with the La Crosse Area Development Corp., The Parenting Place and other regional organizations for a strategic summit on child care to be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, at the La Crosse AmericInn, 1835 Rose St., La Crosse.

The factors and the reasons for our region’s lack of child care are many and complex. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a challenge, would it? The number of licensed providers continues to decline, providers are having a hard time filling positions (remember, they are businesses too) and affordability concerns for parents are very real.

Recently our region has had more than its share of challenging weather events — from bone-chilling cold to ice and snow. At no time is the region’s child-care crisis more apparent than when school closes early or is closed for the day. The mad scramble of parents having to juggle schedules, leave work early or not being able to come to work causes a very tangled economic impact.

Multifaceted challenges have no single solutions. Our summit will include roundtable discussions on the various challenges. There are several area groups that have been working to help find possible solutions to the child-care crisis.

We will bring in some of these groups at the summit to share their findings. There are also different business models — including cooperative child-care centers and business-sponsored initiatives. We will also present the latest results of a La Crosse County child-care survey and share other area surveys.

Former Minnesota Congressman Tim Penny, the president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, is scheduled to discuss some collaborative approaches to solving the child-care crisis.

We won’t solve the child-care crisis with a single summit. But we hope that you will join us to learn about different ideas and be a part of the discussion to come up with potential solutions.

Tickets are $25 for 7 Rivers Alliance members and $30 for non-members. Purchase tickets at

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Chris Hardie is CEO of the 7 Rivers Alliance.


(1) comment


Another thing to consider prior to having children. Again, not rocket science. Make a plan and execute it.

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