Work Toward Shared Goals with Project Growth

Business leaders have always understood the importance of a strong workforce and its impact on a thriving economy, local businesses, and communities. But workforce challenges are an issue that businesses and communities consistently face. Now, with a grant from Project Growth — you don't have to do it alone. When businesses connect and partner with early childhood programs, everyone benefits.

Project Growth helps Wisconsin businesses, communities, and ECE partners add services, find solutions, and innovate. The best part is — we give you money for doing it. Both partners get concrete benefits for their businesses and employees through our unique grants while ensuring a stable, high-quality workforce in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin's Child Care Challenge

Wisconsin is not the only state facing a child care crisis, but we are among the first to invite all communities and businesses to be part of the solution. To overcome many years of inadequate investment in child care, we need to take a collaborative approach. Why? Because the average price of infant and toddler care in Wisconsin costs more than in-state tuition or average annual rent in the state. The average price of infant care represents 18.5% of the median family income in Wisconsin and 83.3% of the yearly wages of a minimum wage worker (Source - Center for American Progress).

Given that child care providers are unable to raise prices above what families can pay, and the majority of their costs are from teacher pay, the child care workforce endures a median hourly wage of $7.46-12.99 per hour, depending on the type of program (Source - Wisconsin's ECE Workforce at a Glance). In short, the business model for child care does not work without increased public or private investment.

How Did This Need Arise? How Serious is the Issue?

Early care and education professionals are the backbones of communities in Wisconsin. They see first-hand the challenges families face in our state as they balance work, overwhelming schedules, the risks of a pandemic, and their children's many needs. Here's what they have to say about the industry's current state and what needs to change in the future. View more ECE Professional stories.

Masked woman with children

"The lack of support for young children and families in the U.S. is dismal and needs to change. While our own kids will always be an individual responsibility, their well-being should also be recognized as a national economic and social priority. I think the pandemic has made a lot of people realize that child care is not a social service but is a part of infrastructure."

- Gisela Alt, Preschool Teacher

Rebecca Nicholson

"Many of my families are struggling to find child care, to the point of soliciting for child care on social media platforms such as Facebook. We need to ensure enough funding is being put toward affordable and quality child care for our families and a sufficient wage is offered to early education providers so parents can work and children can get the proper education needed in the first 2,000 days of their life."

- Rebecca Nicholson, Community Connector

Lisa Garza

"It is no secret that the future of early childhood care and education is somewhat uncertain as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. My deepest hope is for our leaders and governing bodies state-wide to appreciate the incredibly significant impact our ECE professionals make on future generations. Specifically, I hope in the future there will continue to be the unique support required for the youngest learners in the infant/toddler classroom as so many families seek, require, and deserve the highest quality care and education possible for their "littles."

- Lisa Garza, Lead Infant Teacher and Infant/Toddler Program Team Leader

Why Get Involved?

When businesses partner with early childhood programs, everyone benefits. Businesses show that they care about the well-being of their employees and their families, ECE providers can cover their operating costs and pay their staff higher wages, and working parents gain access to high-quality, affordable child care. All this with support from Project Growth along the way!

Benefits for Your Business

  • Stay competitive in a tight labor market by offering attractive benefits
  • Increase employee productivity
    • Employees who know that their children are in safe, reliable, and high-quality environments are more engaged
    • Employees are more reliable when they are available to come to work
  • Strengthen the local community and economy and feel good knowing your employees get a great benefit that strengthens their families and your business

Benefits for Early Childhood Programs

  • Afford quality workers, training, materials, and facilities
  • Retain quality staff through offering higher pay
  • Stabilize enrollment numbers by having reserved business-subsidized spots
  • Make long-term connections with businesses and organizations that can help improve the quality and scope of your care

Partner Up! Grant Program

The Partner Up! grant program will provide $10 million in funding to support partnerships  between businesses who purchase slots at existing regulated child care providers. The funding will be awarded based on existing community child care needs throughout Wisconsin. The funding from this program can be used to increase staff compensation, pay expenses, reserve child care slots for local business employees, improve the quality of a child care program, and more.

Learn More about Partner Up!

Applications are now closed for Partner Up! Cohort 3

businessman shaking hands
child care provider shaking hands

Dream Up! Child Care Supply-Building Grant Program

The Dream Up! grants support communities through a collaborative community approach, teams will work to evaluate, plan, sustain existing child care, and expand it in areas where there is need.

Learn More about Dream Up!

Applications are now closed for Dream Up! Cohort 3

Sign Up for Grant Updates

Why Partnership Matters

“Wisconsin businesses will profit by having more workers available if those workers have child care that is good quality and affordable. [And] Wisconsin communities will benefit if the children are all given equal access to early professional educational development.”


“…with COVID…if we have to close classrooms, [parents] aren’t able to be productive employees;…it makes [employees] happy to have quality child care; they can be more productive at work and at ease. That emotional aspect has a huge impact on their work performance.”


“The feedback that I’ve gotten from my employers is that they understand…that this is a problem, they recognize it. They’ve lived it, they’re well aware of it. And they want to be part of the solution for it.”

-Kate Battiato, Director of Workforce Development, Wisconsin Health Care Association, Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living

"Local partnerships...make the region not only more competitive in attracting a workforce, but also one that makes smart investments in the future. And those are investments in our children."

-Rob Grunewald, Federal Reserve Bank

“…if you look at that three-legged community stool: workforce, housing and child care; you really can’t balance it out without all three legs being available and having equitable access for all.”

-Mari Kay-Nabozny, CEO, NWWIB and champion of founding EverGrow Learning

Project Growth Resources for Partnership

Expand the headings below to learn more about each.

Business Child Care Advocates

Business Child Care Advocates (BCCAs) conduct outreach to businesses for Project Growth, mainly about the Partner Up! program; connect businesses and regulated child care providers; and provide technical assistance to businesses and providers participating in Partner Up! Find your BCCA at your local CRR&R.

Business-Child Care Partnership Tool Kit

Business-Child Care Partnership Tool Kit

This tool kit contains information and considerations for businesses and child care providers looking to partner within their communities. It is a resource for businesses interested in building child care capacity within their communities in an effort to create a stronger local workforce. Child care programs can also use this tool kit and it will showcase how they can benefit from partnering with businesses and ways to do so.

Modules will be released on a rolling basis and linked below. Enter your email address in the form below to get updates as each module is released.

Use this tool kit as you prepare to apply for the Project Growth grants and/or work to expand child care in your community. It was created through a collaboration between the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association (WECA), and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

Media Bundle

Download assets from the Project Growth Media Bundle to help spread the word about Project Growth and its grant programs.

Wisconsin Employer Perceptions of Early Care and Education Research 

Last fall, DCF surveyed nearly 1,000 Wisconsin employers from every county in the state, across a wide range of industries. The goal was to better understand their perceptions about early care and education for children between birth and age 5, as well as what barriers businesses face in supporting employees’ child care needs. Gaining insight into their perspectives can help us connect Wisconsin business owners with the child care information and community-based resources they—and their employees—need to thrive.

Download the Wisconsin Employer 2021 Research Snapshot.

Download the Comprehensive Research Findings.

Project Growth Evaluation

Project Growth is one of many initiatives DCF has introduced to stabilize our communities’ child care systems and bolster Wisconsin’s economy. To date, $30 million has been invested in businesses, communities, child care programs, and families through Project Growth and its two grant programs: Dream Up! and Partner Up! DCF has partnered with KW2 to conduct an evaluation of both grant programs. You can access each report below:

Innovative Communities

DCF would like to capture the many ways in which Wisconsin communities are working together and innovating to solve the child care crisis. What do we mean by innovate?

innovate (verb) 1 make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products; could include applying new processes, introducing new techniques, or establishing successful ideas to create new value. 2 introduce (something new)

DCF wants to hear how new partnerships, business models, and/or investments have allowed communities to significantly enhance one or more of the following:

  • Access to affordable child care in the community, and thus, more parents joining the workforce
  • Quality of local child care to meet the needs of all children and families
  • Fair compensation and job satisfaction for the early care and education workforce
  • Equitable opportunity to a higher quality of life among community members Share your innovation by filling out the following form.

Upon review, your submissions may appear on our innovative communities around Wisconsin webpage. Fill out the form to share what your community is doing to innovate!

Assistance for Businesses


Project Growth Collaborators

Questions? Contact DCFMBDECEProjectGrowth@wisconsin.gov

Sign Up for Grant Updates