What we've been able to do has been in the face of the worst recession in recent memory." The feat to which Jarrett Collins, president of Boston's Mulberry Child Care Centers, is referring is his 12-center chain's annualized enrollment-growth rate of 53%, nearly 10 times the industry average. Still, in the rapidly expanding $20-billion U.S. child-care industry, the $4-million Mulberry is a toddler. Mulberry's founder, George Naddaff, who has been in child care since the early 1970s, plans to add centers at the rate of 5 to 10 a year, mostly through the acquisition of existing high-quality operations in the Northeast. "We're trying to represent the future of child care as a high-quality regional chain, not a national megachain," says Collins. Mulberry, which serves children aged eight weeks to six years, at weekly rates ranging from $80 to $220, is different from the typical child-care provider on several counts: it's open longer, with more flexible hours and more days per year; it serves hot meals; and it offers innovative programs like Fit by Five, which encourages learning through noncompetitive sports to help kids gain a positive self-image and a sense of achievement. Mulberry is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children -- a feather in any center's cap, as only 5% of centers in the country are accredited.
-- Alessandra Bianchi