Three years ago, quick-growing NYMA Inc. faced a dilemma. It was in danger of losing 10 percent of its work force.
The crisis arose when several of the Greenbelt-based data processing company's 50 employees became pregnant within a short period of time. The new mothers needed to find infant care or stay at home.
Talking directly to their employees, executives realized even without a written survey that their work force was in need of nearby, safe and affordable infant care for their working mothers.
"There were people talking about, 'well, what's going to happen when this person comes back to work? Who's going to take care of the baby?' " remembers Susan J. Nyce, director of human resources at NYMA.
Through its inquiries, the company found that there was a strong desire among its employees for infant care near the workplace, where mothers could visit their children during the lunch hour. Since there were no day-care centers that accepted infants in the area, NYMA executives set out to build their own.
This was no small task.
Perhaps even more than their larger, wealthier corporate counterparts, small businesses must carefully address the topic of child-care benefits -- especially when it comes to the question of whether to build an on-site day-care center, according to NYMA President Azmat Ali.
"Spending so much money just to start a center isn't something every small company can afford," Mr. Ali warns, remembering the the legal, regulatory and fiscal demands building a center placed on his company.
Ms. Nyce adds: "It took three years' worth of work to get it to where it is because of all the requirements you have to go through -- the licensing, the zoning."
In addition to the time it took, establishing NYMA's Greenway Infant Care Center cost the company about $150,000. The center, which is open to children from 3 months to 5 years old, is located on the ground floor of NYMA's headquarters building.
By law, child-care centers must be situated on the ground floor, and this can be a major obstacle for some companies.
Because it was in the process of relocating, this growing business was able to include plans for a child-care center in its move to a larger space.
After securing the location and providing the start-up capital, NYMA separated Greenway into an independent, non-profit organization and hired Virginia consultant Play and Learn Services to manage the center.
Greenway is primarily for NYMA employees, who have first option on openings at the filled-to-capacity center. The company also markets the center to its corporate neighbors, which can pay a $2,000 annual fee to be next in line. Tuitions of $90 to $155 a week -- depending on the child's age -- fund the center's working capital needs.
The number of NYMA employees using the center varies, says Ms. Nyce. Currently only four of the 47 children at the center
belong to NYMA employees, but it is still an important part of NYMA's benefits, adds Ms. Nyce.
"It shows we are committed to our employees, that we are progressive," she says.