Small companies can't compete against larger ones when it comes to offering benefits. One solution is to pool resources with other companies. Ten companies in Boulder, Colo., did exactly that, forming the Boulder Business Dependent Care Association (BBDCA).

Each company can offer its employees sick-child care and emergency child care; school-vacation programs; and a child-care resource-and-referral program. Depending on the number of employees it has and the benefits package chosen, each company pays membership fees that subsidize the cost of services to employees. In 1992 the Bank of Boulder, for example, paid $1,700 a year, or $8.50 for each employee who was able to participate in the sick-child-care and emergency-child-care service and the vacation programs. If an employee's child is sick, he or she calls the BBDCA and a baby-sitter comes to the child's home. Employees are charged from $2.50 to $5 an hour, depending on their salary. The vacation camp, run by the YMCA in partnership with the BBDCA, operates during school and summer vacations. Both services cost parents 25% less than they usually would.

The BBDCA was created with the help of the Work Options Group, a Boulder dependent-care-consulting group that also advises companies on setting up on-site child-care centers. If you're interested in setting up a similar consortium, contact the Work Options Group at 303-440-0293.

-- Ellyn E. Spragins