Skip to main content

Tompkins County, New York

Project status

Completed Spring 2000, update spring 2002

Lead Agency

Tompkins County Early Education Partnership

Contact Person

Sue Dale-Hall
Day Care & Child Development Council of Tompkins County
609 West Clinton
Ithaca, NY 14850
Fax: 607-273-3141
Jean McPheeters
Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce
904 East Shore Drive
Ithaca, NY 14850

Research Firm

Cornell University, Mildred Warner PhD
Dept. of City & Regional Planning
204 West Sibley
Ithaca, NY 14853


  • Number of Establishments
  • Child Care Labor Force
  • Children Served
  • Gross Receipts
  • Number of Parents with Children in Paid Care
  • Multiplier Effects on Local Economy
  • Governmental Transfers / Subsidies


  • Stand-Alone Executive Summary/Brochure
  • Newspaper Article / Media Coverage
  • Conducted a Series of Presentations
  • Sent Out an Outreach Letter
  • Involved Business / Economic Development
  • Parent and empolyer outreach materials, Multiple papers and resource materials of designing and costing out a community fund

Case Study

Case Study: Tompkins County, NY
"How Does Child Care Impact the Tompkins County Economy?"
Date of Study Completion: Original Study May 2000, update May 2002



The Tompkins County effort was the first child care economic impact study conducted by Cornell University . The study was sponsored by a local coalition -- the Early Education Partnership (EEP) -- which is working to make child care universally accessible to all families in Tompkins County . A key focus of this effort is building a community fund that will provide a single point of entry for parents seeking financial assistance for child care in Tompkins County . The Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, along with the Day Care and Child Development Council (DCCDC), took the lead in creating the Early Education Partnership. Members include: the Department of Social Services, area businesses and banks, philanthropic interests, Ithaca College , and Cornell University .


The Early Education Partnership has helped make child care benefits more accessible, and increase utilization of public subsidies. The economic impact study was seen as a tool that could help in meeting this goal. Sue Dale-Hall, Executive Director of DCCDC, explained: “We were hoping that this tool would help give us an entrée, by giving us more common language. We were also hoping to build some credibility with the business community, not just as a way to communicate with them, but to say, ‘Look this is an important sector…. ‘We’ve often looked at what’s the long term impact of good early childhood development. When I look at the economic impact study, it has a short-term economic benefit as well. This gives us a better story.” Sue also believes that the County's strong educational establishments -- such as Cornell University and Ithaca College -- have helped underscore the value of early care and education.

The Study:

Sector Definition

The Tompkins County study includes center-based child care, family child care, pre-kindergarten, Head Start, nursery schools, part-time early care at private schools, and school-age child care in its definition of the child care industry. Although some informal care is excluded due to lack of data, data on legally-exempt informal providers listed with the Day Care and Child Development Council is included. When calculating gross receipts, the study includes: parent fees and public child care subsidies in lieu of parent fees, and publicly funded Pre-K and Head Start.

Data Analysis

Measurement* Tompkins Co.
Number of Establishments 280
Child Care Labor Force 700
Children Served 3,500
Gross Receipts $15 million
Number of Parents with Children in Paid Care X
Multiplier Effects on Local Economy X
Governmental Transfers / Subsidies X
Tax Receipts / Fiscal Impact  

*Not all studies included the same components making it difficult to compare the numbers provided in this chart with those of other studies. In its definition of the number of establishments, this study included licensed and regulated center and family care, regulation-exempt center care, pre-K in public schools, and regulation-exempt home-based care (informal care) listed with the Child Care Council. In its definition of gross receipts, this study included provider charges (parent fees and vouchers in lieu of parent fees), and government funded programs (Head Start, Pre-K) and did not include provider subsidies (quality dollars, Child and Adult Care Food Program, etc.)

One of the key challenges faced by the Early Education Partnership in the process of data analysis was how to count the parent impact of child care. Tompkins County is a job center for the region, with large numbers of parents coming into the County to work daily. Jean McPheeters, President of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce queried, “Are we really thinking about trying to benefit the people who work in the county or people who live in the county? That was a big issue.” The advantage, however, of the limited size of the study region (compared to a statewide study) was that the Day Care and Child Development Council had a clear picture of child care supply in the County, including regularly updated information on worker salaries and parent fees, in some cases even for informal care.

Unique Findings

With the Early Education Partnership’s focus on affordability and subsidy use, the report attempts to break down how these issues play out in Tompkins County . They found that the average family with young children spends between $3,640 and $10,920 per child for child care, which can take up to 35% of a family’s monthly budget. A primary goal of the EEP was to create a community scholarship fund to provide universal access to high quality care. To show the relative role of public subsidies, sliding fee scales and the need for private (business and community) contribution, they developed a graph ( showing how middle-income families pay the greatest percentage of their income for child care. In a persuasive strategy, the study compares early care and education expenses with college tuition - appropriate for a county specializing in higher education.


Organizational Change and Outreach

The study was published in a user-friendly format, as a series of one-page fact sheets that describe the economic impact of child care spending in Tompkins County . These fact sheets were targeted specifically at policy makers, parents and employers. One fact sheet contrasted the potential eligibility for subsidies among working parents with the actual level of subsidies for the county, and asked employers to encourage state lawmakers to “fill the gap”.

In addition to the fact sheets, the EEP also created a brochure for parents that identified various ways they can get help paying for child care. The brochure was designed to be used in a variety of settings, from social service offices to private employer human resource divisions. The EEP mailed packets of brochures to a pilot group of businesses. Following the success of this first outreach effort, the Chamber of Commerce is now exploring the possibility of creating a brochure showcasing all of the benefits available for employers and employees, not just child care.

Jean McPheeters found that the study was a useful tool not only in demonstrating the economic impact of child care, but also in talking about the loss of federal funding. “When you talk about the added value of bringing a dollar into the community you can also say that if you take the dollar away, we’re losing more than just that dollar for our community…that wasn’t its intended purpose but it has been useful.” Despite the success of their brochures, both Sue Dale-Hall and Jean McPheeters emphasized the importance of disseminating information through personal contacts.


The study made several policy recommendations aimed at increasing access to existing funding sources for child care. This includes encouraging employers to offer flexible spending accounts, and helping eligible employees apply for child care subsidies. One employer, Cornell University , initiated a new employee child care benefit that made over $600,000 a year available to help families pay for child care.

Additionally, the EEP and the Chamber became actively involved in requesting an increased child care subsidy allocation for the County. This effort was successful; in 2003 the County subsidy allocation was increased by $600,000.

Interview with:
Jean McPheeters
Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce
Sue Dale-Hall
Day Care & Child Development Council of Tompkins County
Summer 2004


Download report