Hormel breaks ground on early childhood education center

Published 5:54 pm Wednesday, May 3, 2023

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After several years of development, Hormel Food Corps. broke ground Wednesday afternoon  on its $5 million, 13,000 square foot early childhood education center.

The center will be built on land located along 17th Avenue NW, just west of Worlein Funeral Home. When up and running, the facility will host 130 slots for children, 60 of which will be devoted to children two-years-old and younger.

“It’s honestly a dream come true. It’s been a journey,” said Angie Bissen, manager of Human Resources Business Partners with Hormel. “We’ve learned so much. Hormel Foods isn’t a childcare company. This was all new to us when we started this journey.”

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That journey started prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but began picking up steam over the last couple years. It’s estimated that the center will be completed in the spring of 2024.

To help with the project, Hormel partnered with Mower County, the City of Austin and Austin Public Schools, who granted tax abatements for the property. Both Mower and Austin granted 15 year abatements and APS a five year abatement.

“I think one of things we recognize, child care is expensive,” said Jeff Holt, senior manager of Corporate Properties at Hormel Foods. “It’s expensive for families, but it’s also expensive to get started. It was necessary for us to partner with the local government agencies to help offset the high cost of being able to provide this service.”

The facility will actually run at a projected deficit, which was the reason for Hormel to pursue the abatements.

At the end of the day though, this facility is felt by many to augment the community, especially economically by its location next to the busy 18th Avenue corridor.

“We picked this site specifically because of the positive economic impact it would have on the community as a whole,” Holt said. “It’s convenient for families and mothers or fathers to be able to pick up their kids then run to Hy-Vee, run to Walmart, be able to grab a meal at one of the restaurants.”

That economic value is something governmental bodies recognized as well.

“I think it’s a huge benefit just for the economic development of the whole city to provide something like this,” said Mower County Board of Commissioners Chair Mike Ankeny. “It’s just a big deal. You’re going to draw people to town. It’s kind of a no-brainer to support something like this.”

Bright Horizons will operate the facility, adding to its approximately 1,000 facilities located in the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands and India according to Jami Behrens, division vice president of Operations for Bright Horizons.

Behrens also told those in attendance Wednesday that Bright Horizons has worked with 1,300 of the world’s leading employers.

For many, this new facility will provide another option for parents, but it also highlights the challenges of the childcare shortage throughout the United States.

“Childcare shortages are a really hard problem to solve because is it a government problem?” Bissen said. “Is it an employer problem? Is it a parent problem? I think the realization we have is that it takes collaboration of everyone working together to bring these solutions forward.”

This new facility will be opened to all parents in Austin, however, Hormel employees will have preferred enrollment.

Bissen also said that Hormel is not trying to fix the problem, but rather to contribute to the opportunities.

“Our center is intended to be an addition to the many great childcare providers and options we have in the community,” she said. “To really have a vibrant community, you need the options for parents to choose from. We’re excited to bring another option into the community.”