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Strengthening communities has always been important work, and it is even more essential now that families across America are facing so much uncertainty.  Forward Wayne County (FWC) partners with local leaders and organizations to create more vibrant, thriving, and forward-thinking communities.  We are inspired by how Wayne County residents have been supporting each other through our current public health crisis, and are committed to continuing our work of improving the quality of life for all residents, and supporting our workforce with up-skilling, job placement, and quality childcare.

Our work is informed by YOU! 

In February 2020, FWC administered a countywide survey to better understand several factors that affect Wayne County residents’ quality of life.  The survey explored:

  • Early Childhood Success – What are the current norms, challenges, and expectations regarding childcare, and how do families find providers?
  • Neighborhood Development – How many residents live where they want, like where they live, and what do they like about it?
  • Quality of Place – What does a “vibrant” town center look like to Wayne County residents, and do our communities provide active, entertaining, and enriching opportunities for families?

Collectively, these categories influence current and prospective residents’ perceptions of livability in Wayne County, which impacts migration trends, community involvement, and the local economy.  The information collected in this survey will help FWC develop projects and partnerships to help attract, develop, and retain a highly competitive workforce in Wayne County.

What did we learn, and how will it help?

We received responses from 406 residents of Wayne County, with representation from 14 of 15 towns.  Here’s what we learned in each key category:

Early Childhood Success

We heard from 58 parents who have children who are five years old or younger.  Of those, 47% use unpaid in-home childcare, which may include a parent, relative, or older sibling.  21% use paid daycare, and another 21% use public pre-k.  However, 29% report that they have not been able to find safe, affordable, quality childcare for their child(ren) during work hours. 

Wayne County parents primarily find childcare through personal networks – 79% report using friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors to find suitable providers.  The top three factors in selecting a childcare provider are reputation, price, and location.

Research shows that high-quality early childhood education are critical to success in school, and a focus on Early Childhood Success can help close the achievement gap.  91% of Wayne County parents plan to enroll their child(ren) in early childhood learning programs before kindergarten, and FWC is committed to improving the accessibility, affordability, and quality of programs throughout the county.  Our Early Childhood Coalition convenes local experts and service providers to improve access to high-quality daycare and preschool options.

Neighborhood Development

Overall, 82% of Wayne County residents live where they want to live in the county, but only 73% of residents who are 25-44 years old agree.  With 31% of residents listing “more young families” as a top three priority for the future of Wayne County, it is important for us to understand what people love about Wayne County, what could be improved, and how FWC can help define and achieve these visions through programs and advocacy.

The primary reasons people want to move out of Wayne County are housing-related.  Residents feel their homes are too expensive, too big, too small, or too close to town.  Additionally, there is a reported lack of quality homes/apartments available, and few options for downsizing or assisted living in preferred locations.

One of FWC’s program pillars is Neighborhood Development, which focuses on the community-led revitalization of spaces that enhance the lives of residents.  Survey respondents report that they would like to see improved public and private property maintenance, more parks, and increased safety precautions throughout the county.  With these priorities identified, FWC can help residents define “development” for their own neighborhood, and discover and mobilize existing resources to work towards stabilizing, revitalizing, and enriching their community.

Quality of Place

Finally, our survey asked residents about how they perceive the “quality of place” in Wayne County.  Is it a great place to work?  Raise kids?  Is it a beautiful area, with fun things to do?  Nationwide, these are the types of things that incentivize young families to stay in, and move to, a particular place.

The majority of residents strongly agree that Wayne County is an affordable place to live, with many options for an active lifestyle.  There is equal agreement that Wayne County is a beautiful area, a great place to raise kids, and there are good schools in the area.  However, most residents agree that there are not many fun things to do, and few “great” jobs in the county.

In 20 years, residents’ top three priorities for Wayne County include: a stronger local economy, thriving small businesses, and restored historical charm.  When asked if their town has a “vibrant” center, 15% of residents said, “yes,” while an additional 40% said “not yet,” indicating optimism about the future state of the county.  “Modernized town centers” is a top-three priority for 19% of residents, who define a “vibrant” downtown as having retail and restaurants, regular community events, and family–friendly entertainment.

FWC is addressing improved quality of place through multiple programs targeting employability, arts, and culture.  Our Employability Coalition connects residents with available employment and training opportunities, and works to attract businesses to our communities and leverage existing opportunities for economic growth.  In conjunction with our workforce development initiatives, FWC is also supporting arts and culture programs to improve communities, address social and civic needs, and foster broader organizational change. 

Our Commitment to Our Shared Future

Guided by the experiences, observations, and opinions of our fellow residents, the team at FWC is excited to continue developing community-led initiatives that target Wayne County’s top priorities and concerns.  In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever to ensure our programs are well aligned with both current and evolving needs, and this survey provided us with that invaluable knowledge.

Through this survey, we learned that Wayne County has many unique assets, and many opportunities for creative, community-defining growth.  With a greater level of community involvement, increased cultural amenities, and a comprehensive workforce development infrastructure, Wayne County will be well positioned to attract and retain the next generation of local business and community leaders.

Read the full report here.

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