SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A city’s economic strength often leads people to look at unemployment rates, average income or job creation. What might not be considered is child care availability, but it’s an essential piece of a community’s economic puzzle.

Candy Hanson describes her involvement with the Sioux Falls Childcare Collaborative as that of facilitator. The collaborative’s providers, she says, are both center-based and nonprofit.

“Sioux Falls Childcare Collaborative is definitely working on improving the recruitment and retention of child care workers,” Hanson said. “Child care workers are professionals. They have to be trained and meet really important quality standards, everything from CPR and nutrition and things like that.”

But she says there’s a lack of appreciation.

“The community doesn’t really recognize this as an important job,” Hanson said. “And the fact is, if there’s no child care in Sioux Falls, there’s no workforce.”

“I don’t know that people necessarily realize how critical child care is to our community,” said Christina Riss, community impact director with Sioux Empire United Way.

Riss helps bring funding to child care providers.

“There’s a lot of families out there that are seeking good, quality child care and are really struggling to find that care,” Riss said.

But care can’t happen if there’s no one to provide it.

“What we find out when we work with center-based child care providers is that they have the physical capacity to take more kids, but it’s getting harder and harder to recruit and retain qualified child care workers,” Hanson said.

“The child care industry, generally speaking, has really had a lot of struggles for many years nationwide, and which clearly have been enhanced because of the pandemic,” Riss said.

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire is a part of the Sioux Falls Childcare Collaborative.

“I think child care is really in an unprecedented place in terms of the shortage that we have in child care workers and some of the challenges that we’re facing financially in terms of trying to make ends meet as an organization, as child care providers, without raising rates to the point where it’s not affordable for families,” said Rebecca Wimmer, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire.

“The pandemic exacerbated the shortage of child care across the nation and especially in Sioux Falls,” Hanson said.

A new report commissioned by the collaborative highlights different concerns. One is that parents can’t afford child care. Another is that providers don’t take in enough money from parents to stay afloat financially. Families as well as employers are let down.

“Knowing that almost two-thirds of our child care centers say at the end of the year that they have a deficit, that is a critical concern that shows how challenged our child care industry is and how at risk we are for some of these child care centers closing,” Riss said.

“It will cost about $10,000 a year for child care for one child, and the median salary in Sioux Falls is $39,000 a year,” Hanson said.

This week’s report is meant to be a spark.

“This report will be used to go out to the business community together and advocate for businesses to pay attention to the need,” Hanson said. “We think the business community, once they really understand that there’s no workforce without child care, can help us make the profession, elevate the profession and attract businesses to helping us find solutions.”

“We’re really at a critical point where you’re going to see child care centers struggle to remain open,” Wimmer said. “We’ve already seen some changes in the child care environment where certain child care providers are closing classrooms, certain providers are closing altogether.”