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U-GROing in the midstate

Early child care and education provider opening $3.5 million center in Derry Township

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Next month, Dauphin County-based U-GRO Learning Centres Inc. will open a 16,000-square-foot center in Derry Township. Outdoor play spaces, featuring playground equipment created by Denmark-based Kompan Inc., wrap around three sides of the facility. Photo/Amy Spangler
Next month, Dauphin County-based U-GRO Learning Centres Inc. will open a 16,000-square-foot center in Derry Township. Outdoor play spaces, featuring playground equipment created by Denmark-based Kompan Inc., wrap around three sides of the facility. Photo/Amy Spangler

Steady population growth aided by a diversified industry base in Central Pennsylvania has helped drive expansion efforts and significant revenue increases for various support businesses.

Among them: early child care and education providers such as U-GRO Learning Centres Inc.

The midstate is currently home to about 1.6 million people — up from about 1.44 million in 2000, or 11.4 percent — according to the U.S. Census Bureau and a July 2011 population estimate from the Pennsylvania State Data Center.

The increasing population has translated to new and larger facilities for Swatara Township-based U-GRO. As a result, enrollment has grown by more than 17 percent per year since 2006 and is five times the size it was in 2001, said Greg Holsinger, the company’s president and CEO.

Through constant reinvestment in age-appropriate equipment and infrastructure, U-GRO has evolved from a church-based preschool program with a single location in 1973 to one of the fastest-growing companies in Central Pennsylvania.

“Site expansion is the biggest driver of revenue,” said Holsinger, whose 12-facility company has seen revenue grow about 15 percent annually. “Most of our centers reach full capacity or are close to capacity, so real revenue growth can only be achieved through additional locations.”

U-GRO reported 2011 annual revenue of $9 million, according to Business Journal records. The company operates in five counties in Central Pennsylvania and employs about 225.

Revenue is expected to reach $10.5 million this year, said Holsinger, who is scouting the area for additional locations.

Cumberland and York counties are possibilities, he said. Each has one location. U-GRO opened its first Cumberland County center last June at Messiah Village in Upper Allen Township.

Holsinger also said he could see expanding east into Berks and Chester counties. Right now, two-thirds of the company’s centers are in Dauphin and Lancaster counties.

“We value and enjoy serving the Central Pennsylvania marketplace, and there are a few selected communities that we are actively studying to provide our services in the next three to five years,” he said.

Three years ago, U-GRO operated 10 facilities serving about 1,000 children. Today, its 12 child care and education centers serve about 1,300 children, Holsinger said.

To help keep pace with demand in the Hershey area, U-GRO next month will open a 16,000-square-foot center on two acres at the Hershey Center for Applied Research in Derry Township, replacing a smaller facility in the process.

The new center is projected to enroll about 175 children. The center on West Areba Drive was built for 60 children, Holsinger said.

The $3.5 million center on Research Boulevard includes 10 age-appropriate classrooms that incorporate advanced digital technology such as interactive whiteboards and iPads. There also will be one-of-a-kind indoor and outdoor play spaces, including a two-story internal play structure, that help address physical and mental developmental needs for each age group.

U-GRO has partnered with Denmark-based Kompan Inc., a worldwide leader in playground equipment, on the Derry Township project.

“Greg was looking for a playground that answers every question from toddler to 8 years old,” said Kerrin Smith, president of Kompan.

U-GRO expects to add about 30 staff members because of the added enrollment.

For Kompan, a firm of about 900 people worldwide, the goal is to grow in the U.S. and become a mainstream player, Smith said. Its product line is more high-end niche products, and the plan is to develop a broader base of equipment for the mass market, he said.

Both companies said they could foresee future projects together. Both praised one another for their commitment to physical activity and early educational efforts to help kids build life skills and live healthier lifestyles.

“Many programs don’t have the opportunity to build from scratch. When you do have that opportunity, you take that opportunity,” said Diane Barber, director of the Pennsylvania Child Care Association, a nonprofit that advocates for early care and education programs.

Designing more natural play areas and utilizing digital technologies are among the larger trends in child care facilities, she said. Many facility operators across the state also are looking to build or renovate facilities that incorporate more green elements, including alternative sources of energy, she said.

There are currently about 9,000 child care providers in the commonwealth. About half of those fall into the large center classification. There also are family providers that operate out of their homes and small group providers.

“It goes with population growth,” Barber said. “As we see more development, we see a need for child care.”

U-GRO evolution

U-GRO has been designing and building child care centers from the ground up only since 1997.

Through a church partnership, the company started in Palmyra in 1973 with its first center. Janice Holsinger, the mother of current president and CEO Greg Holsinger, expanded the company to five nursery school locations before transitioning to full-day child care in the mid-1980s.

The nursery school operations were closed in 1995.

U-GRO Learning Centres operates 12 facilities total in Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties.

The new Derry Township center on Research Boulevard is slated to open July 9.

Closer looks

U-GRO by the numbers

12: Number of U-GRO locations among Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties

1973: First U-GRO facility opened in Palmyra through church partnership

1997: First U-GRO child care center built from ground up

16,000: Number of square feet of U-GRO’s new child care center in Derry Township

$3.5 million: Cost of new Derry Township facility

150: Estimated daily service level at Derry Township location (enrollment figure to be about 175 children)

30: Projected staff at new center

225: Number of U-GRO employees prior to new facility, which replaces another Derry Township location

$10.5 million: Anticipated U-GRO revenue in 2012

$170-$260: Average weekly cost to attend U-GRO facilities on a full-time basis; includes meals

Sources: U-GRO Learning Centres and Greg Holsinger, president and CEO

 

Kompan by the numbers

900-plus: Number of employees worldwide

100: Projected number of direct and indirect employees serving the U.S. market

$30,000-$80,000: Average playground project

Sources: Kompan Inc. and Kerrin Smith, president

Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jasons@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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