The West Texas sun is still hours away from rising, but the line at the First Presbyterian Church in Midland is already forming.
These aren’t teens waiting for concert tickets. They’re tired moms and dads hoping to get a spot at the church’s “Mother’s Day Out” program for their children, the babies of the boom.
“It’s like you’re scalping for tickets to a Rolling Stones concert,” said Jessica McCoy, a soon-to-be mother who sells oilfield services equipment for United Safety Ltd. in Midland. McCoy’s solution: her mother has moved to Midland from Austin allowing McCoy to keep her job when her son is born this fall.
Others aren’t as lucky. More than 1,400 children were on daycare waiting lists in Midland and the surrounding area earlier this year, according to the latest available data. It’s a statistic that’s keeping both families and communities from taking full financial advantage of the Permian Basin’s rise to energy dominance.
Affected the most: Moms. With women still making less than men generally, they’re more likely to quit work to provide care for their children, said Michelle McCready, chief of policy at Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit that promotes affordable childcare.
Heidi Winkler, married to a petroleum geologist, knows the feeling well.
Winkler’s 20-month-old son will attend extended childcare at First Presbyterian’s childcare center for the first time starting next month. That’s allowing her to finally achieve a long-sought goal: Starting her own graphic design business.
“It was a huge relief to be able to get into childcare,” she said. ‘‘I know so many other moms who are on the wait list, and they may not make the cut for childcare this fall.”
In Texas, a family of four that make less than about $48,000 a year is eligible for government funding for childcare, according to Shay Everitt, director for early childhood education initiatives for the non-profit group Children at Risk. But only about 17 percent of the facilities that serve those children are considered “quality” providers, meaning they’re certified by the state’s rating system.
At a Bright Horizons’ childcare center in Midland, monthly rates are subsidized by Concho Resources Inc., a Permian shale driller. That means parents pay between $600 and $700 a month per child, compared with more than $1,000 a month many are forced to shell out without employer help.
Even with a facility specifically reserved for one company, though, most age groups still have a “pretty good-sized wait list,” said Jessi Silva, the center’s director.
“Right now, if your infant is already born and you want to get your child in, it’ll probably be next summer before you can get them in,” she said. There were 18 infants, five toddlers, seven preschoolers and five to six “Kinder-preppers” on the waiting list as of early August, according to Silva.
At the same time, the lack of childcare is hurting local communities like Midland and nearby Odessa, where local officials are working hard to increase the number of families that move to the shale patch for good.
While many rig operators and truck drivers leave families back home while they pull two- to three-week shifts, the cities aspire for oilfield workers and white-collar employees alike to come with their spouses and kids. That means more money for area restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores and shopping malls, according to Jerry Morales, the mayor of Midland and a local restaurateur.
“Families won’t move here because they can’t get into daycare,” Morales said in an interview at his Mulberry Cafe. That’s why Morales plans to make childcare one of his main calls for action in a September “State of the City” address.
Companies desperate to hire are also moving to tackle the issue. A 200-child facility backed by Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Chevron Corp. and EOG Resources Inc. just broke ground in Midland. And Pioneer Natural Resources Co., like Concho, already has a partnership with Bright Horizons for childcare centers that exclusively serves its employees.
“You’re seeing more and more companies coming together to solve the problem around childcare,” said Katie Mehnert, chief executive officer of Pink Petro, a group that provides resources for women in the oil and gas sector. “It’s a topic everyone’s talking about.”
‘Motivated and Skilled’
In Monahans, a smaller town in the heart of the frack sand boom, daycare is so hard to come by that Mayor David Cutbirth built one himself. The 62-child facility currently serves employees of his recently opened Bennigan’s restaurant for a subsidized $1.40 an hour, and he recently opened it up to the general population for around $4 an hour.
“It’s a difficult thing to do. It’s not one of those things where you go, ‘Hey, I’m going to put in a daycare,”’ said Cutbirth, who spent $150,000 to put in the facility and has about $800 a day in labor costs. But “it really is important if you want to have a workforce that is highly motivated and skilled.”
Rod Slaton, business administrator at First Presbyterian, says they’re going digital so parents won’t have to physically wait in line in the wee hours of the morning. Demand has been outstripping resources on numerous fronts in the region, according to Slaton. “Everything is such a mess out here,” he said.