The Petal Board of Aldermen recently approved zoning changes to allow a daycare facility on Hwy. 42 in Petal, near Petal High School, Petal Elementary, and Petal Primary School. The issue was contentious because of the potential traffic increase in the nearby neighborhood. However, no one opposed a “childcare facility”: they were concerned about a business that may create more traffic. Yet, the lack of affordable childcare has plagued our community for years.

As a member of the Excel By 5 Coalition, I can attest that when the group addresses critical needs in Petal for families with young children every three years, the need for childcare tops the list. So, with empathy for the concerns of the closest residents, I am thrilled to know that we will have at least one new daycare center in Petal.

I see good quality childcare as a crucial part of a vibrant community, especially if you want to attract young families to your community. However, childcare is often considered a social issue, a “women’s issue” or something not considered. The reality is childcare is an economic issue. Our excellent school district feeds our economic and community development, particularly in Petal. Put another way, childcare is economic care.

The most important thing to young couples is their children. They’ve read the literature that says the ages from birth to 18 months are the most critical in a child’s development. That makes quality daycare essential, and parents will pay a lot, move to new communities, and drive long distances for it.

Now that the school bond issue has passed and the Petal school district will build new facilities, we should also consider investing in plans for a school district childcare center. More importantly, the state of Mississippi should be including quality child care in its economic strategy.

The COVID pandemic laid bare the importance of child care. There were often times when all childcare providers had to be shut down, and half of the workforce couldn’t attend their jobs. Suddenly, those who insisted child care was a social issue realized it was an economic issue. Or, more appropriately, it made us aware that child care is an economic issue, not just an issue for women or individual parents and families.

The lesson here is that it is not enough to talk about the importance of good quality child care or even plan to introduce it. We have to make sure our talk and plans lead to the implementation of good quality child care for as many families who choose to take advantage of it.