For Washington-area employers, the baby boomlet has given a new meaning to the word "pampering."
Employers, finding that their workers increasingly are from two-earner families with small children, have begun investing more heavily in child care -- whether through financing or building the centers themselves -- in order to attract and keep their best and brightest.
"It is an issue that politicians and corporate leaders cannot hide from in this area because of the giant economic boom and the number of new jobs being created almost daily," said one area developer. "We have all become dependent on having the mother and the father in the workplace and need to do everything possible to fill their needs."
One Fairfax County mother of a six-month-old boy confided that "it would make it hard for me to switch jobs if my company offered me convenient child care and another only offered a small pay increase."
If day care is available near or in the corporate setting, there is less absenteeism, tardiness and employe turnover, according to Cheri Sheridan of Silver Spring, who heads PAL, a consulting firm specializing in helping developers and businesses establish nonprofit day-care facilities.
Sheridan said one mother who uses the PAL Corporate Child Center built in the Metro East office park in Landover by Rouse & Associates, a major development firm, manages to see her child almost as much as she would if she were a nonworking mother. "She goes over for lunch and schedules breaks to coincide with the child's play times. She figures she spends all but three hours of the child's waking day with him," Sheridan said.
Sheridan, whose projects have included setting up day-care operations for Rouse, has just completed a feasibility study for a Rouse day-care center in Tysons Corner and is now evaluating plans for day-care facilities in Henry Long Co's. 1,000-acre Westfield project planned along the Rte. 28 corridor near Washington-Dulles International Airport.
Of the area jurisdictions, "Prince George's County is years ahead in providing local incentives for child care," according to Sheridan, who cited the Rouse project in Landover as a prime example.
In addition, several county proposals are pending, including ones to grant increased densities or tax credits to developers who will provide child-care facilities.
Rouse has been a local corporate leader in seeking solutions to the day-care dilemma, Sheridan said.
She noted that almost 70 children of professional and support workers employed in Rouse's Metro East office park in Landover use day-care facilities provided within the development in the Metro Executive Terrace Building. The complex is convenient to both Metrorail and Amtrak.
Efforts in Virginia, however, have lagged. "The need for on-site day care is long overdue in the Tysons Corner area," said Wayne Angle, head of the Homart Development Corp./Lerner Cos. joint venture now developing the Tysons II project.
"The demand is certainly there. It makes good business sense. Not only are developers looking at the issue nationwide, so are chambers of commerce and economic development authorities," according to Angle, whose Chicago-based parent company is involved in office and retail development in almost every part of the country.
Tysons-area developers, working through Tytran -- a coalition of developers, business leaders and politicians -- have yet to decide whether to approve preliminary plans for a day-care center. If they do, it will go in a building owned by Rouse & Associates along Greensboro Drive, a street that has attracted major law firms, stockbrokers and banking facilities primarily because of its proximity to the Tysons II project site. Rouse also is planning to include day-care facilities in its Fair Oaks Corporate Center development planned for the Fair Oaks area of north central Fairfax County.
Partly as a response to Northern Virginia's lack of day care, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is considering legislation to provide incentives to developers and employers to fund day care. On Monday, the board is scheduled to vote on major changes in its zoning laws designed to make it easier for developers to include day-care facilities in their projects while protecting the health and safety of the children, according to a spokesman for John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax board.
Both Herrity and Supervisor Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville) are strong supporters of corporate-funded day care, and county planners predict passage of the proposals.
Proposed changes would allow developers to include "day care, nursery schools and schools of general education" by right in large high-density office and industrial parks. Developers wanting to include day care in smaller projects could do so either by getting special use permits or special exceptions to their zonings, county officials said. The county's Department of Health Services would have the final say over whether a proposed day-care site met safety requirements, according to county planners.
But despite incentives such as these, developers still face the sometimes steep costs of setting up day-care centers.
The cost of setting up a center easily can run over $150,000, Sheridan said, adding that cooperation among the tenants in an office park ensures that no single company will have to bear the brunt of all start-up expenses.
Centers set up through the PAL network are run on a nonprofit basis, making the long-term financial benefit even more attractive to corporate executives, builders said.
There are several ways of making the finances work, Sheridan and developers said.
Employers may opt to buy a block of days to be given to or offered to employes at rates below the going market price for child care. An employer may want to let the workers set aside a given amount of their salary for day care. Some companies may choose to guarantee spaces for the children of their workers by paying the center fees to hold spots for specific numbers of children, Sheridan explained.