Public-private partnership will bring much-needed service to families in eastern Pulaski County
Local leaders and members of the industrial community in eastern Pulaski County tossed the first shovel of dirt Wednesday for what is one of the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority’s most creative and impactful initiatives to date: A childcare center at Valley Oak Commerce Complex.
The state-of-the-art center — which will be a minimum of 7,500 square feet, care for no fewer than 150 children and create 20 to 25 jobs — will be built on 2.27 acres at Valley Oak, land SPEDA owns that has been vacant for two decades. Following a public request for proposal process in which SPEDA sought solutions for building a childcare facility on this property, the board of directors selected a proposal submitted by Janice Clark, owner of PJ’s Primary Care Center in Somerset.
“We are so grateful to Janice and her entrepreneurial spirit for taking on this monumental project,” SPEDA President and CEO Chris Girdler said. “I often say that child care is the workforce behind the workforce — having options for employees is essential in ensuring they can keep our economy humming by going to work every day. This has been a need for our industrial community in Somerset-Pulaski County for some time and we are thrilled to partner with Janice to improve the quality of life for the employees at Valley Oak.”
Clark said she and her team share SPEDA’s excitement about opening this new location to serve families and children at Valley Oak.
“The staff at PJ’s looks forward to providing this new service to the people in the community and partnering with other local community leaders, businesses and industries within the area to provide quality childcare to the families and children there,” Clark said.
Child care is one of the most significant barriers to employment and workforce participation, according to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Kentucky has one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the nation, in part because thousands of working families across the Commonwealth find themselves having to choose between ensuring quality of care for their children and pursuing a career. Child care is either too expensive, too elusive, or sometimes both.
Being able to create jobs while also improving the quality of life for local employees and families is a win-win and exactly what SPEDA was created to do, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck said.
“This project will be life-changing for so many of our people,” Keck said. “When we say SPEDA views economic development holistically, this is what we’re talking about — creating ways that our economy can thrive while also making this a place people want to live. We can’t just create jobs and hope the rest takes care of itself. Families need affordable and accessible childcare options. There are just too few of them not only here but across Kentucky and I commend SPEDA and Janice Clark for being willing to say that isn’t good enough for the people of Somerset-Pulaski County.”
Pulaski County Judge Executive Marshall Todd stressed that the backbone of the local workforce is built on family.
“If we want to recruit industry and good workers and retain those workers, we must meet their needs as a family unit,” Todd said. “Part of that need comes in the form of easily accessible child care. PJ’s Childcare Center will be positioned close to our workforce on Highway 461 and will provide yet another option for parents wanting to be close to their children while they simultaneously provide a better life for themselves and their families.”
Through this public-private partnership, SPEDA agrees to sell 2.27 acres at Valley Oak Commerce Complex to Clark for $60,000 and place that money in an escrow account. Proceeds of the sale will be completely refunded to Clark if she meets the timeline requirements established in the contract: to have the center built and operational within two years of the date of signing.
Working with the private sector to find creative solutions to address workforce needs has proven to be an effective tool in combatting the workforce crisis locally. SPEDA took a similar approach in December by finding a private developer through a public RFP process to build affordable housing at Valley Oak, another amenity that is in great demand. Forty apartments have been built on property there with more on the way, and single-family homes on the horizon as well.
“This is just the beginning of what will be a complete transformation of eastern Pulaski County during the next decade,” Girdler said. “These quality of life initiatives, coupled with new commercial, residential and industrial development in neighboring SPEDA Commerce Park and significant transportation enhancements on the state highways surrounding it are going to revolutionize this area and enhance the quality of life for Pulaski Countians in ways we can’t yet imagine. There is not another economic development authority in Kentucky leading in this way, and I am incredibly proud of the future we are building for our community.”