Making sure workers have affordable child care, training students so they’re ready for the workforce and selling outsiders on the quality of life on Grays Harbor is the sort of groundwork that Greater Grays Harbor Inc. is focused on, the organization’s CEO told members at its annual membership meeting.
“Why focus on child care? It plays a significant role in retaining workers, allowing businesses to expand and attracting new businesses,” said Dru Garson, CEO for the organization that serves the dual role of economic development group and a county-wide chamber of commerce.
Between 2012 and 2016, the region lost 25 percent of its child care providers, Garson told his members on Feb. 26. Greater Grays Harbor has been working with partners, including the Washington Child Care Collaborative Task Force, of which Garson is a member, to make child care more affordable and accessible. Garson mentioned a business retention case handled by Greater Grays Harbor involving Tugboat Granny’s Childcare and Preschool in Ocean Shores that watches 40 to 45 kids. They were told the building had been sold and the facility had very little time to move, he said.
“They scrambled and found a building, the Galilean Lutheran Church, but it needed $55,000 in repairs” to meet codes, said Garson.
The business got a $19,000 grant from the church, and Greater Grays Harbor got involved to help find more, said Garson. The Grays Harbor Community Foundation provided $29,000 and Greater Grays Harbor is working to find other sources to fill the remaining $7,000.
Garson hears from local businesses that some have a difficult time finding qualified employees. Greater Grays Harbor has lobbied for funding for career connected learning, where young people can access internships, sometimes paid, to learn hands-on skills on demand in a changing economy. A partner in this effort is Grays Harbor College, where $146,000 in grant money has been made available for this type of training.
Garson discussed Greater Grays Harbor’s three-year plan, which includes studying what types of careers are emerging as most in need for future employees with specific skill sets, then modeling courses and training opportunities to to those careers.
“We have to make sure they are trained to take advantage of the jobs of the future,” said Garson.
Greater Grays Harbor’s website will also get a more modern and streamlined appearance, said Garson, and include a database of available commercial properties for potential investors.
The organization continues its legislative efforts in Olympia and Washington, D.C., with opportunities such as the annual Legislative Send-off, a weekly call open to members with legislators, and Lunch With the Mayors.
Ocean Shores City Councilman Jon Martin, who is a member of the board, said the goal is “to get Grays Harbor on the map” and give members a unified voice in government. “We can gather priorities and hand them to our representatives,” said Martin. “When you get down to Olympia you realize how many are looking for the same money and at the same issues. We need to work together as Grays Harbor. When we’re in there talking as a group it can be very powerful.”