About This Episode

Corporate social responsibility extends far beyond the doors of a facility and beyond its current payroll ledger. Companies and employees alike are faced with a lack of affordable, quality childcare, forcing many to leave the workforce. Through collaboration with childcare professionals, while addressing the unique needs of the workforce and community, companies can empower the parents of their workforce to be successful, happy employees. Today we speak with Angie Bissen, Manager of HR business partners, Hormel Foods, about the initiative to create a childcare center to support their workforce and other families in their rural community. 

Topics Discussed

➡️ Empowering the workforce through corporate social responsibility
➡️ Collaboration and community involvement 
➡️ Increasing employee satisfaction and retention by addressing unique needs


The U.S. Manufacturing Workforce Transcript

Michele Vincent: Hi everyone. I'm Michele Vincent, host of The US Manufacturing Workforce podcast. On the show today I have Angie Bissen, Manager of HR Business Partners at Hormel Foods, which is a global food company with over 11 billion in annual revenue across more than 80 countries worldwide. Hormel is currently designing a new community childcare center in Austin, Minnesota, with the goal of freeing up potential employees who are currently stuck at home due to a lack of childcare. Austin needs more than 500 placements for kids and Mower County in total needs more than 800. Welcome to the show, Angie, and thanks for coming on to talk with me about all of this today. How are you? 

Angie Bissen: Oh, absolutely. Thanks for having me. 

Michele Vincent: Well, before we jump in -- and I have so many questions, I'm a mother of four myself, so childcare is critical for my life -- but why don't you tell us about Hormel Foods for anyone who may not be familiar with your company and then share a little bit about your role there and your background with them over the past 16 years. 

Angie Bissen: Yeah, absolutely. So like you said, we are a global branded food company that has a presence across the world but primarily in the United States. Our headquarters is based in southern Minnesota in a more rural area. Austin, Minnesota is a town of about 25,000 people. So something unique to have a Fortune 500 company in a more rural setting like that. We are the proud stewards of many brands that you may have heard of like Spam, Hormel Chili, Skippy peanut butter, Wholly Guacamole, and Applegate --there are lots of great brands that are under our portfolio. But we were unique here in Austin, Minnesota, that we have our corporate headquarters as well as our largest manufacturing facility. So we have about 3000 employees here in Austin, but 20,000 employees or so globally.

Michele Vincent: Awesome, and tell us a little bit about your role with the company and how you started working on this initiative.

Angie Bissen: I've been with Hormel Foods for about 16 years, I took a little bit of a unique path into human resources, which is where I am now. I started in our accounting area and worked there for about three years and transitioned into human resources and about five years ago, our Vice President of Human Resources came to me and said -- Hey, I've got this crazy idea... can you just start doing some digging and find out what would it take to maybe bring a childcare provider into Austin? So I started digging around, and I didn't know where to start, so I just kind of started poking around. One thing led to another and it's kind of been a passion project of mine for the last several years, it's been one of those, in addition to my day job, which is Manager of HR Business Partners as you'd mentioned. My day job is really to manage a team that helps our business leaders unlock their business strategy and business results by using, our people, our talent, and our talent development -- all of those things to help drive business results. So I've had the honor of having this side project for the last few years and it's been one that's really been rewarding.

Michele Vincent: What was the driving force behind Hormel's decision to build a community childcare center?

Angie Bissen: I would say the conversation really started from hearing feedback from our team members, both current team members as well as prospective team members that we're trying to recruit and attract, that childcare can be a huge barrier to either entering the workforce or staying in the workforce. We were hearing feedback from our team members around, I don't know if there's going to be availability, I am coming up to the end of my leave, and I still haven't found childcare availability. I have to leave the workforce because I can't find availability of childcare. Or you know, I'm not interested in moving to Austin, Minnesota because I don't see childcare availability that meets my needs. From a company standpoint, we were really feeling that childcare was starting to become a barrier to attracting and retaining talent. And also Hormel Foods is very invested in our community of Austin, Minnesota, it's where we were founded and where we currently reside with our corporate headquarters. We also recognize that childcare is a really important piece to a vibrant community and to economic development in a community, so we wanted to pursue this not only to help our organization attract and retain talent but also to help build Austin, Minnesota and help make it a great place to live and work.

Michele Vincent: Your corporate office is in Austin, and then your largest production facility is in Austin, so you have a mix. I'm curious in terms of the hours for the childcare center -- I don't know if you guys operate 24/7 on the production side -- but will the childcare center be opened during nontraditional work hours to accommodate employees outside of the typical 9-to-5?

Angie Bissen: We do operate our manufacturing facility around the clock and that was definitely a need that was on our radar. We used our partner Bright Horizons to help us understand what the demand would be for nontraditional hours -- a 2nd-shift to 3rd-shift type of childcare and we learned a lot throughout this journey. We also learned a lot through some focus groups that we did with our production professionals and ultimately, what we landed on is, we are going to have the center operating traditional first shift hours, kind of a 6 am to 6 pm type of operation. And the reasoning behind that is, I'd say, twofold. One, from a financial feasibility standpoint, it's very challenging to make it financially sustainable to operate a center in those off hours, just because you have to maintain ratios of teachers to students and unless you can really fill that center up it becomes really hard to financially sustain. The other thing we learned is, a lot of our team members that work those shifts either have split shifts with a spouse or a family member where they don't utilize traditional childcare. Or they lean on family, friends, neighbors, and things like that. So we really didn't feel like there was going to be a strong enough demand, but just because our center isn't going to address second and third-shift care, doesn't mean it's not on our radar. We do have a childcare center in our community here that provides 2nd and 3rd shift care and so we're talking with them to say, hey, childcare is an important issue for our workforce, especially the care that they provide, which is the nontraditional hours. We're having some conversations to think about how can we lean in and partner with that provider and help them make sure that they can continue to sustain the care that they provide because it is an important piece of the childcare solution puzzle.

Michele Vincent: Excellent. That's awesome that you have that there. Especially for manufacturing employees, and even other people in the community that work in different industries like nurses, doctors, things like that. Let's go back for a minute to Bright Horizons and the focus groups that you had when doing your research. Can you talk a little bit about the research that you've done and walk us through the process? I know, initially, you jumped in and you started doing some research, but you weren't sure where to start. What did that process look like in terms of getting that ball rolling and putting these plans in place?

Angie Bissen: Yeah, so like I said, it, it literally started with some Google searches because we we were that inexperienced in this space when we started our journey. But ultimately, where we started with kind of compiling a list of what are the potential childcare operators or partners that are out there that have experience in this space. Because we recognized pretty early on that you know, Hormel Foods is a food company, not a childcare company and so we needed a really great partner to bring that childcare expertise to help us along our journey. We first started compiling who are the options and talking with them interviewing different partners and finally making a selection of Bright Horizons to engage with as our partner in this. We also did some workforce surveys, so some employee surveys where we asked conceptually about if you feel like there's a shortage of care and what have you experienced, so if we were to build a new center would you be likely to utilize it? We just started to get a feel for the demand, whether would people use it, and what they value in childcare. As I said, it, it's not a one size fits all solution a lot of times, and people value different things -- some value a smaller setting with a more intimate way of delivering childcare. Others say I really like the structure and the curriculum a center provides. There are a lot of different ways childcare solutions can come to life, and we needed to get a feel for what specifically was our workforce looking for. We also talked to other employers in the community to understand if we were the only ones feeling this need or if other employers in our community were feeling this. What we learned is there are definitely other employers feeling these needs. So we really just started talking about the topic to our team members, to other community members, to other employers to understand what exactly the need was out there. Once we engaged with Bright Horizons, they were able to bring forward tons of knowledge and expertise, they have great ways of helping you understand based on your employee demographics what the expected demand is, what kind of blind spots we have, like I said, it's not our business. We were really fortunate to have a partner that was able to help guide us along the journey. So that's how the project started.

Michele Vincent: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Obviously, as you said, you make food and you're not in the childcare business, so having that partner as a resource must be fantastic. And I like what you just said -- that you reached out to other employers in the community -- you really are taking a community approach with this. If I understand correctly, the center is going to start with Hormel employees, but then at some point, you'll open it up to the rest of the community. Is that accurate?

Angie Bissen: Yeah, that's right. So Hormel Foods team members will have preferred enrollment or priority enrollment in the center. However, it will be a center that is open for anyone in the community to utilize. We're first really focused on meeting the needs of our team members, but we also know that it's in everyone's best interest to increase the availability of childcare and fill this center up. So it is open for the whole community to utilize.

Michele Vincent: I don't know if you have any statistics on that in terms of the surveys that you sent out to your workforce, but I believe on your website it said that you have about 1800 employees at your Austin plant alone. So do you anticipate that they'll be open slots? Or do you anticipate that those, I think it's 130 placements, that you'll have there, do you expect those to fill up pretty quickly with employees?

Angie Bissen: Yeah, we are. We are building a capacity of 130. And based on what we understand from some of our surveys, and some from demand projections, I do think that especially our earliest age group, so like our infants, one-year-olds, and two-year-olds, I think those slots are going to fill up the quickest. And then I think there's going to be some availability in some of the older age groups, you know, the 2s, 3s, and 4s. So I do think it's going to be a great blend of Hormel and community enrollment at first, but I think the biggest demand is definitely going to be felt in those younger age groups and I think they'll probably fill up the quickest.

Michele Vincent: Got it, and since you're partnering with Bright Horizons, are the people running the center, are they going to be Bright Horizons employees? Or would those be Hormel employees?

Angie Bissen: They will be Bright Horizons employees. That's, one of the great values that we saw on leveraging a partner like Bright Horizons was they have the expertise in recruiting and hiring childcare professionals. They operate over 1000 centers across the country, so they're able to transfer talent in sometimes from other centers. And then you know, they provide all of that administrative support that you think about like payroll and benefits and insurance and all of those things that come with operating a business like this. So they will be Bright Horizons team members, but what I'm excited about is in working with them -- it feels like their culture really aligns with Hormel Foods and who we are as a company so I think it'll be a really great alignment there.

Michele Vincent: Yeah, that makes sense. Do you anticipate that the childcare center will help attract a more diverse pool of candidates?

Angie Bissen: You know, I think it definitely will not hurt because one of the things that we were hearing is because we have our corporate office here, we are attracting talent and recruiting talent from coast to coast. And so a lot of our talent we're trying to attract to Austin, Minnesota is coming from larger metro areas where there are more diverse populations. One of the barriers too, when you're thinking about 'where do I live' and 'where do I work' -- is childcare. If we can provide an option that is similar and familiar to them and it's something like they've had in larger metro areas, I think it just removes one barrier to coming to a community like Austin.

Michele Vincent: Absolutely. Have you thought about --  I'm sure you have -- but have you thought at all about how you're going to measure the success of this initiative? Both in terms of employee satisfaction and business outcomes?

Angie Bissen: Yeah, I would say the first measure of success is we hope to fill the center up, we want to see it full and running efficiently. Then I think the second measure that we want to keep an eye on is the attraction and retention of talent. We're hoping that this can be leveraged as a great recruiting tool and that it will really help us retain our talent, so that would be another measure.

Michele Vincent: Before we hopped on this interview you mentioned that you do have some information on your website. I presume you will probably put it into job ads, but is there a larger recruitment marketing play with this at all in the works? 

Angie Bissen: Yeah, absolutely. We're really excited to work with our talent acquisition team to build this into our overall recruiting strategy to make sure it's part of our sales pitch of why you want to work for Hormel Foods. Why do you want to come to Austin, Minnesota? So we're definitely going to be leveraging this in our recruiting strategies and building it in wherever it makes sense to help us get some leverage out of this and help but help us with our attraction and retention of talent.

Michele Vincent: Awesome. Is this sort of case study? I guess case study is not the right word, but if this goes really well, is this something that you, as an organization, would consider rolling out to other areas?

Angie Bissen: Yeah, we're definitely interested in the learning from this, because we know that Austin, Minnesota is not the only community that is struggling with childcare availability. We operate in a lot of different communities across the country and many of them are dealing with the same lack of childcare availability. I think the uniqueness is, like I said, childcare just isn't a one size fits all solution. Just because this solution might work in Austin, Minnesota, copying and pasting it into another community might not be the best solution for that community. I think one of the things we're looking at is what can we learn from this, that can help us think about what is the right solution for other communities based on their population, the resources they have in their community, and what solution is really going to be the best fit for that area. But we definitely have it on our radar is something that is a big barrier for the other communities we operate in and something we need to think about how do we bring solutions forward.

Michele Vincent: In terms of where you're at right now in the process, are you scheduled to break ground this month, and then shooting to have the facility open in April of next year in 2024? Can you talk a little bit about where you're at in the process and what your expectations are moving forward?

Angie Bissen: We actually just broke ground this week, we had a groundbreaking ceremony where we had a great presence from our community partners and had a really nice event this week where we broke ground.

Michele Vincent: Congratulations!

Angie Bissen: Thank you. It was a great milestone to have behind us. It's, been a long time coming, so it was really kind of surreal to see it happening. We have our construction designs all ready to go, and we have our construction trailer on site, so things are happening. We will be starting enrollment and hiring processes for the center -- the next things on our radar from an operational standpoint, that'll start somewhere around six months before opening. Then like you said, we're, targeting a spring 2024 opening for the center.

Michele Vincent: That's awesome. What challenges have you experienced along the way? For anyone who may be listening to this podcast and thinking, we need to consider this at our organization, what are some challenges or even just some advice that you would have for someone thinking about something like this? 

Angie Bissen: I would say one of the challenges is just the financial feasibility of providing a childcare service, especially in a more rural area. The realization we had is when you get outside of metro areas, you can't support the kind of childcare tuition rates that you find in larger metros. And while it's more affordable for parents, which is great, it becomes really hard to make it a financially sustainable business model. So we had to come to the realization that we're viewing this as an investment in our workforce because this is never going to be a revenue model for us, this is never going to turn a profit. We're going to be making an ongoing investment from the company standpoint, to keep this center running. So we had to come to terms with that -- that this is going to be an investment that we're willing to make for the long run. The other thing, like I've mentioned a bit, is we had to get past the idea that one solution was going to solve all of the childcare needs in the community. It's a super complex topic and there are a lot of different angles and different needs to childcare. One solution really isn't going to solve every need we have in the community, but one solution at least starts the ball rolling, it starts increasing the accessibility, and it's a great step in the right direction. We had to embrace progress, not perfection a bit. I think the other learning we had was, and this is maybe unique to businesses that are a more prominent employer in a smaller community is, how do you strike that balance between helping your organization and helping the community? I think you need to keep a focus on both of those things at the same time because, for us, that was just a really important piece -- we didn't want something that was exclusive to Hormel because we knew this was more than a Hormel problem. those are some of the key learnings we had throughout the journey.

Michele Vincent: Thank you for sharing that. I do agree with that. I think that was the right move, engaging the community, and certainly reaching out and getting feedback. And like you said, it is a complex issue that, it's not a one size fits all. But taking, one step forward is better than not taking any steps. And it is a big issue. All good things happening. We are just about out of time, so where can people connect with you and where can they find more information about your community childcare center?

Angie Bissen: Yeah, absolutely. We do have a link on our Hormel Foods website where you can sign up to get updates on the project or learn a little bit more about it. So that is www.hormel foods.com/childcare and if you're interested in contacting me directly, I would love to connect via LinkedIn. You can look me up Angie Bissan and I would love to answer any questions or connect on LinkedIn.

Michele Vincent: Awesome, well access to childcare and having reliable childcare are critical for getting people back into the workforce and also for keeping them there -- and what Hormel is doing is really such a fantastic idea. I appreciate you coming on the show, Angie and you'll have to come back next year and give us an update once everything is up and running.

Angie Bissen: Yeah, I would love to Thanks for having me





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