"It makes no sense that we aren't doing a better job for Early Education."

Those are the words of Mark Tyler. Tyler is well-known throughout western Wisconsin with his connections to OEM Fabricators, Inc., out of Woodville, the company he founded.

Tyler announced his retirement from the company last year, citing the need to work on some of his other passions, including promoting early childhood education, supporting families and workforce development.

An example of those passions is the Family Friendly Workplace.

The program gives businesses the opportunity to earn the Family Friendly Workplace certification "for workplace practices that support families and provide financial support to early childhood education and other programs."

Tyler explained his rationale for being involved: If kids are started off on the right foot with the correct learning skills (I.e. appropriate reading level), studies have shown they’ll be less likely to be in poverty or end up in jail or prisons.

It sounds simple enough, but there’s a reason for it: While it’s not as bad as it is in St. Croix County, in northern Wisconsin, two people are leaving a company for everyone person coming in.

“The average age of the workforce is going up and fewer kids are being born,” Tyler said. “Companies are having a problem retaining talent. Early childhood is struggling for resources.

“This is more of a project,” he later added. “We are definitely putting more in than we are taking out.” Corporate sponsors such as Bremer Bank, Xcel Energy and OEM have donated for costs.

How to become certified

If companies are interested in becoming certified, they have to fill out an application, which asks them questions pertaining to healthcare coverage (how much is employer-paid, benefits does the employer provide), childcare cost support, paid time off for employees and additional paid time off for leaves among others. Additional examples include giving employees the opportunity to work from home, donating sick time to employees who need it or flexible work schedules.

A scoring criterion is used to classify companies in Gold, Silver and Bronze certification.

Area businesses that have become certified include:

• Amery Hospital and Clinic

• Bremer Bank

• Catalyst Sports Medicine

• Family Resource Center St. Croix Valley

• Heywood, Cari and Anderson

• Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau

• Hudson Physicians

• OEM Fabricators

• Redmon Law

• River Falls School District

• St. Croix Central School District

• United Way St. Croix Valley

• Vibrant Health Family Clinics

• Western Wisconsin Health

• Westfields Hospital and Clinic

• Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College

• Xcel Energy

• YMCA in Hudson

Another local example is the Be Well program, coordinated by Nolato Contour, Vital Plastics, OEM and the Baldwin-Woodville School District in which in the words of Tyler, “to provide (medical) access without a high deductible plan.”

“If it makes your life better, that’s all we care about,” he added, noting when it comes to benefits, employees should choose what they can use it for, not have it be company mandated.

The long-range goal, Tyler said, is to have Family Friendly Communities, not just Family Friendly Workplaces.

For more information, visit www.familyfriendlyworkplace.org

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