RACINE AND KENOSHA – Child care centers can – and should – be run like any other small business, says Mary Fischer-Tracy, director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) serving Racine and Kenosha counties.
Fischer-Tracy’s office, at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, is now the state’s child care business expert, offering consulting help to existing and start-up child care center operators through the Wisconsin SBDC Network’s 14 locations. The free assistance includes developing detailed business plans and identifying local financial resources.
“Our goal is to help them learn to run a child care like a business. It’s a very important aspect of our economy,” she said.
The SBDC is well-positioned to have a spot in a child care center owner’s toolkit. The 42-year-old program is part of the Institute for Business and Entrepreneurship in the UW System. Part of its funding comes through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Most Wisconsin SBDC Network offices are located on or near UW System campuses.
Fischer-Tracy and her sister, Barb Fischer-Galley, bring a unique perspective to assisting child care center operators. Both have been licensed family child care center operators and both have experience in business and nonprofit settings.
About 20 years ago, Fischer-Tracy, who had been working as a business banker, launched a child care business out of her home after her daughter was born. Then, when her daughter, Kennedy, was diagnosed with leukemia, Barb jumped in to help.
Kennedy recovered from the illness and Barb Fischer-Galley, meanwhile, went on to operate her own in-home child care business that specialized in caring for infants.
Fischer-Tracy later returned to banking and then was associated with Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. (WWBIC), a nonprofit that assists underserved individuals with resources for launching and strengthening businesses. She joined the local SBDC office in 2017. Along the way, Fischer-Tracy and Fischer-Galley were partners in a Kenosha County antique business and worked separately in the nonprofit sector.
When the Wisconsin SBDC Network funded an educational initiative aimed specifically at child care operations last summer, Fischer-Tracy and Fischer-Galley (a business consultant at the local SBDC office) opted to become the in-state experts. So far, they have provided consulting help to about 10 new and existing child care businesses throughout the state. They’ve met with many clients virtually.
“We go above and beyond the (state-mandated) regulations (for operating child care centers) and get into things like budgeting, cash flow, marketing, taxes and so on,” Fischer-Tracy said. “We want child care businesses to be run legally and successfully.”
Presentation in April
Fischer-Tracy will share her perspectives at the Wisconsin Family Child Care Association annual conference at Green Bay from April 28-30.
“The message I share is that you can run it like a business and be profitable and get positive recommendations from parents,” she said.
Local Operators Share Experiences
Two local child care operators say they’ve benefited from counsel and support from SBDC and WWBIC.
Niki Mauer, who now operates group child care centers in Racine and Union Grove, had intended to start out small back in 2013.
“I was literally just going to babysit from home while I worked on a master’s degree in administration,” she said. “But then, it just took off and I decided instead to launch a community-based private school.”
Mauer connected with WWBIC, which helped her obtain a $10,000 business loan to lease space for the growing child care business. But she also recognized that she needed to learn about business operations and entrepreneurship. A WWBIC counselor referred her to the SBDC office at UW-Parkside.
After two years, she felt it would be cost-effective to buy her own building. With the SBDC office’s help, she created a business plan that helped her obtain bank financing to acquire the formerGethsemane Lutheran Church building at Washington and Blaine avenues in Racine.
Today, Mauer Home School, with an enrollment of 170 children, occupies the church’s former education wing and she rents the former church sanctuary area to a dance studio. The center includes preschool programming and offers a summer program for school-aged children.
Last fall, Mauer acquired an existing group child care center in Union Grove. Renamed MHS West, it cares for 53 children. The two locations have 27 employees.
“I think it (SBDC) is the best resource out there for business,” said Mauer. “Mary (Fischer-Tracy) has always been such a great champion for me and other start-ups.”
Danielle Poole, the operator of Danielle’s Building Blocks, a Kenosha group child care center, got her start nearly four years ago when Fischer-Tracy was a WWBIC counselor/mentor.
“It’s been so very helpful to have resources where I can turn for advice on how to keep my business sustainable,” she said.
Today, Danielle’s Building Blocks cares for 16 children in two shifts, seven days a week. Poole and an employee do the work.
Looking toward the future, Poole says she would like to acquire a vehicle to be able to take children on field trips.
Small Business On The Rise
The SBDC’s child care business outreach comes amidst a continued demand for quality, affordable child care and an overall upswing in small business start-ups.
A survey by Lending Tree, an online lending marketplace, found that a quarter of Americans considered starting a small business during the COVID-19 pandemic and 64 percent of them took steps toward getting a business off the ground.
Lending Tree also reviewed U.S. Census Bureau data that showed that the number of people filing for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) rose 25 percent from 2019 to 2020. Lending Tree cautioned that not every business operator needs to file for an EIN (examples include freelancers and consultants) not all applications progress into a business start.
Still, an entrepreneurship increase has been seen. Lending Tree’s data review of 100 U.S. cities showed that metro Milwaukee ranked 19th in the US with a 26.6 percent increase in new business application growth from 2019 to 2020. Madison ranked in 80th place with an 11.5 percent increase.
Fischer-Tracy reported no drop-off locally in her office’s business start-up work from 2019 to 2020. Start-ups have included fitness, retail, child care, event spaces and “technical services” such as computer and phone repair.
“Just like anything, the internet has a wealth of information available. It’s made it possible for people to learn more about how they might develop an idea or an interest into their own business,” she said.
“I’m happy when they come to us. People often misjudge just how difficult it really can be to launch and operate a business.”
The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) office at UW-Parkside offers a free consultation. A variety of online workshops (a fee is charged) are available. Call: 262-595-3362, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the SBDC online.
Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. (WWBIC) serves Racine from offices at 245 Main St., Suite 102 (phone: 262-898-5000) and Kenosha from offices at 600 52nd St., Suite 130 (phone: 262-925-2850). For details on services, visit the WWBIC online.