Small Business Counseling Assistance and Degrees in Criminal Justice and Early Childhood Education Lead to Expansion of Great Falls Childcare Center

Daycare Center Success in Great Falls, MT

After earning a degree in criminal justice at the University of Great Falls with a minor in psychology, Raegen Breeden thought she might have a career in criminal justice, maybe as a police officer.  She never imagined at the time of her graduation 19 years ago she would be “policing” children as an entrepreneur and owner of a thriving childcare center and preschool.

True to form, life has a way of directing one’s path.  Not only did Raegen add a degree in early childhood education this year, she is on the verge of a $1.7 million expansion of one of the most successful and popular childcare centers in Northcentral Montana.  

Raegan's success was recognized in March 2017 by Montana Governor Steve Bullock (pictured above, center) and by her Small Business Development Center advisor in Great Falls, Jason Nitschke (pictured left of Gov. Bullock with Raegan, far right.)

Raegan's journey toward entrepreneurialism started shortly after she had her first child.  She started caring for others’ children out of her home on base at Malmstrom Air Force Base.  “I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my baby” with someone else while she went off to work, said Raegen. 

While her path may have been born of necessity, it has flourished out of passion and love for what she does every day:  helping children and parents care for and nurture children in a safe and wholesome environment.

After becoming a licensed childcare provider in 1998, Raegen not only grew her own family with two more children, she grew her business into three off-base homes where she and her staff cared for children.  That growth ultimately led to a business plan and proposal to the Great Falls Housing Authority to rent a building and consolidate her programs at 5115 3rd Ave. South in Great Falls.  

That location will remain open even with the $1.7 million expansion at 4241 2nd Ave. North.  The project is being financed through U.S. Bank and a U.S. Small Business Administration Certified Development Company loan through High Plains Financial, managed by Great Falls Development Authority.

The project will not only allow her to triple the number of children she can care for (43 to 130), but expand her preschool into Pre-K and hire additional staff.  She’s hopeful growth and new facilities will lead to the best childcare rating in Montana – 5 stars.  

Arguably Raegen’s childcare center is already among the best in Montana as rated by Montana Department of Health and Human Services Best Beginnings STARS to Quality Program. It is the top-rated center in Great Falls with 4 stars according the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.  Meanwhile there are only two 5-Star programs in Montana, one in Billings and another in Whitefish; Raegen wants to be the third.

She said it’s more than hard work and determination that has made this project possible:  she also credits GFDA’s loan program and loan officer, Mark Archer, and Jason Nitschke, the Small Business Development Center Regional Director.  They worked with her on her business plan and her financing package.

“I was in very unfamiliar waters knowing what the bank needed to put the deal together,” said Raegen. “If Jason wasn’t there I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that.”

“He and I connected through my real estate agent,” said Raegen, adding that she didn’t know about the free business development assistance that was available at GFDA and the SBDC until her agent told her about it. 

“Raegen’s project is a perfect example that economic development doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it’s not easy.  But what’s great is that Raegen took advantage of a lot of assistance designed to help entrepreneurs like her,” said Nitschke.  

Raegen started working with Jason at the SBDC in February 2015.  In addition to GFDA’s loan products, she was helped by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields program for a property assessment prior to purchase. “As it turns out,” Nitschke said, “the Brownfields program found hazardous petroleum contamination from a neighboring parcel and helped offset her remediation costs by $30,000.             

“These are the types of projects that SBDC advisors around Montana love to dig into,” he said.   

Nitschke operates one of 10 small business assistance centers in Montana.  These SBDCs are partly funding by the SBA and managed by the Montana Small Business Development Center network through the Montana Department of Commerce.  Nitschke and the other advisors in the network provide free one-on-one confidential counseling to small business owners who want to expand, such as Raegen, and those who have want to start their first small business enterprise.

For Raegen, bringing this project to fruition is the culmination of years of work: “You have to work hard, nights and weekends, and sometimes you have to stand your ground,” she said.  “I get to do what I want to do (while) engaging in the community and investing in the kids,” she said.



Company Name: 
Play 'N' Learn Preschool and Daycare
5115 3rd Ave. S., Great Falls, MT 59405