Heather McDowell

It is no secret that Montana companies need help to hire and retain employees. We can all think of businesses that now have irregular hours or reduced services because they cannot find staff. One big reason is a significant lack of available and affordable child care.

Sibanye-Stillwater feels these challenges in our business. Our mining and metals recycling and processing operations in Stillwater and Sweet Grass Counties are the country's only primary producer of platinum and palladium. Sibanye-Stillwater has nearly 1900 employees working at its Montana operations.

According to a 2021 Bureau of Business and Economic Research study, our operations contribute over $6 billion to Montana’s economic output annually, which is nearly 6% of Montana’s total economic output.

Like most Montana businesses, childcare is an issue for our employees and candidates. It significantly contributes to our challenges in recruiting, hiring, and retaining employees.

Montana KIDS COUNT data shows that no county has childcare availability that meets the needs of the parents and businesses in their communities.

When childcare costs more than tuition at MSU or UM, you know we have a problem—especially considering that childcare workers make just over minimum wage.

I am especially passionate about this because I started this job when I was ten weeks pregnant with twins and already had an older son. I was lucky to afford childcare. For many families, this is not an option, and often the only “solution” is for one parent to stop working.

That leaves no solution for single parents and has created a society where only the most privileged can afford to work and have kids. In a state where we have nearly achieved full employment, we must solve this problem in order to access additional workers.

After years of lamenting these issues personally and professionally, I was so pleased to see a viable solution, especially when Montana has the resources to make it happen. House Bill 648 will expand access to the Best Beginning Scholarship and cap co-pays so working Montanans can afford childcare. It will also stabilize reimbursements for childcare businesses so they can stay open and provide more slots, especially for families who receive best beginnings scholarships.

I’m proud to work for an organization like Sibanye-Stillwater that is passionate about creating a human-friendly workplace. Sibanye-Stillwater is a vocal supporter of HB 648 because it is essential to create positive opportunities for those in Montana’s workforce or looking to return to it.

As a mom who loves my job, I want my kids (including my twin daughters) to live in a world where they can have both careers they love and have kids. When there is reliable, affordable childcare, kids, working parents, and businesses all win.

HB 648 is a thoughtful step to address the real barriers for parents to continue working and for businesses desperate to find enough workers.

Families have been asking the Legislature to do something to help improve childcare access and affordability for years. It is time for businesses to step up, too.

HB 648 is more than worth the money. These state resources will be returned many times over in increased workforce participation, growing businesses, and families participating in their local economies.

We hope you will join us in calling your legislators at 406-444-4800. Please tell them about the positive impact HB 648 will have in every county for families and businesses.

Heather McDowell is the VP of Legal, Environmental, and Government Affairs • US PGM Operations at Sibanye-Stillwater.