Keen on Kids in Rural Nebraska

Keen on Kids in Rural Nebraska Main Photo

21 Jun 2024

Local business owners across the country have been dealing with a chronic shortage of workers and Gage County, NE is no different. The Gage Area Growth Enterprise (NGage) has consistently sought to address this concern through numerous workforce initiatives, such as improving the county's childcare and early childhood educational offerings, to help make Gage County a more desirable place to live. 

“We’re working hard with Beatrice and the villages of Gage County to create places and spaces that young families are attracted to and want to spend time in to help grow our population,” NGage Executive Director Rachel Kreikemeier said. “We’re building a strong foundation for our future workforce.”

The reality is that reliable childcare is necessary for communities to thrive.

“That was the driving factor for making childcare a priority initiative,” Kreikemeier said. “We’re giving our workforce a necessary piece of infrastructure.”

Shared effort to create more childcare options

NGage recently created a new non-profit, Gage County Childcare Collaborative, to serve as a dedicated childcare-focused organization that will work to support the current and future infrastructure of high-quality and affordable childcare and early childhood education in Gage County.

The Collaborative is an offshoot of Gage County Communities for Kids (Gage County C4K), formed in 2021 from a grant awarded to NGage by the Nebraska Children & Families Foundation. The new non-profit will consist of a board of industry experts, including childcare providers, educational experts, healthcare professionals and passionate community members, and will include an automatic seat for NGage to provide access to historical knowledge and resources to push solutions forward. As a non-profit, it can access critical grant funding, rent buildings and more. 

Thus far, the Gage County Communities for Kids Initiative has used grant money to help support the capacity expansion of county facilities. The grants have also helped providers address the rising costs of labor and capacity expansion, and are intended to fund retention bonuses, hiring bonuses, higher hourly wages and shared staffing support for these childcare programs. 

NGage is taking other creative approaches to solving the need for childcare, like partnering with the Beatrice Community Hospital and the University of Nebraska - Gage County Extension office to put on a babysitting clinic for 12-14+ year old children. The goal is to equip children with the skills necessary to assist families with short-term care and develop an interest in both a career in early childhood care and education as well as entrepreneurship.

Changing the perception on childcare

For many families with young children, childcare is often one of their biggest expenses. For many childcare providers, employing a quality workforce is their biggest expense. This creates a unique challenge for providers as they try to achieve a balance between charging a rate that matches the quality of care and that is affordable for families, and paying a rate that offers a liveable wage without pushing their business into the red. 

The reality, however, is that a lot of facilities are operating in the red. It costs a significant amount of money to employ and train staff, and to provide educational programs with a structured curriculum.

There’s a perception problem within the childcare industry. On one hand, providers often undercut themselves because they care about the children and families they work with, and they want to provide services at a rate that families can afford, even if it doesn’t adequately support their business. 

On the other hand, however, many community members still refer to early childhood professionals as “babysitters,” which sells short the value of their services to the community. 

“We want to find a happy medium, so we’re doing what we can to help both providers and families,” Kreikemeir said. “One route we’re exploring is legislation, so we’re working with state senators and other local leaders to find a solution.”

Kreikemeier and her colleagues are so intent on tackling this complex challenge because she is confident that providing a strong support system for Gage County‘s children early in life is something that will benefit the entire community – now and in the future. 

“We know that childcare, and appropriate activities and education – even for infants from birth to 18 months – is critical for brain development,” Kreikemeier said. “It sets kids up for success later in life.”

For more information on the Gage County Childcare Collaborative, please visit