Gentex starts construction of onsite preschool for employees

Expansion is nothing new for Gentex. But Ottawa County’s biggest employer’s latest construction project is generating lots of attention for taking an innovative approach to solving the challenge of affordable quality child care.

This week, the company began construction on the Gentex Discovery Preschool next to the manufacturer’s Zeeland headquarters.

Gentex, which is partnering with ODC Network, broke ground on the on-site daycare center and preschool designed to provide quality, subsidized care for the children of Gentex employees.

Gentex CEO Steve Downing speaks at the ground breaking. (Gentex)

“Improving access to affordable, quality child care is a goal shared by all the groups represented here today,” says Gentex President and CEO Steve Downing. “Finding and paying for child care has increasingly become a burden for far too many in our community. It’s a barrier to employment that also negatively affects child development, household financial stability, and overall economic growth. 

“We trust this facility will become a meaningful benefit for Gentex employees, allow individuals to reenter the workforce, and create child care openings throughout the community.”

Care available to first, second shifts

When completed, the 43,000-square-foot building will have 12 day care rooms, three rooms for infants, a play center, office space and a food prep area. Nature-themed play areas and a fishing pond are also planned for its outdoor space.

The Gentex Discovery Preschool will be the first of its kind in the area, in part because of its extended hours, which will accommodate the children of both first- and second-shift workers, with a capacity of up to 250 children per shift. Gentex plans to offer discounted child care rates as a benefit of employment.

The Gentex Discovery Preschool will be the first of its kind in the area. (Gentex)
The facility will be owned by Gentex and operated by ODC Preschools, one of nine divisions of the ODC Network. ODC Preschools provides nature-based child care and early childhood education programming intended to prepare young children to be active, independent learners with a lifelong connection to the natural world. Children spend time outdoors each day, learning through active play and exploration. 

The May 5 groundbreaking drew dozens of representatives from educational institutions, community organizations, economic development groups, and state and local government.

Gentex CEO Steve Downing speaks at the ground breaking. (Gentex)

“Employer-based child care centers are strategically important to the continued growth of West Michigan,” says Travis Williams, CEO of ODC. “They benefit the employer by helping attract and retain talent, the economy by expanding the workforce, and children by reducing the achievement gap and improving health and educational outcomes.”

Over the past couple years, Gentex has been systematically addressing some of the region’s most significant barriers to employment. In 2021, the company launched Spanish-speaking assembly lines to expand employment opportunities for West Michigan’s growing Hispanic community. Today, over 200 Spanish-speaking employees work on various production lines throughout the company.

Later this month, the company plans to open a satellite production facility in the Madison Square neighborhood of Grand Rapids. By expanding its manufacturing footprint, Gentex plans to boost its employee base and provide greater access to well-paying jobs for those unlikely to commute to Zeeland due to rising transportation costs.

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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.