SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — We’ve been talking about the growing workforce shortage for months in KELOLAND, as restaurants and retailers limit hours or builders turn down jobs due to a lack of staff.  But last week, a key piece of the workforce started to crumble in Sioux Falls.

“There’s waitlists at the majority of the centers in Sioux Falls, especially the infant to two-year-old rooms,” daycare owner Lacey Cooper said. 

Finding an opening at a daycare in the Sioux Falls area is already a struggle.

“They were left with no notice,” Cooper said. “They were frantic.”

But just last week, Cooper spoke with many parents from another large daycare in Sioux Falls that closed two of its infant rooms and an entire daycare center in Brandon that closed its doors, all for the same growing problem.

“They cited in their email that it was due to staffing,” Cooper said. 

Now directors like Lacey Cooper, who owns four daycare centers in the Sioux Falls area, are getting dozens of emotional calls from parents searching for childcare.

“We weren’t able to help any of the families either due to our own staffing issues,” Cooper said. 

Her brand-new Early Explorers daycare center in Harrisburg is still only about half full, with a long list of parents waiting to get in.

“We have the capacity, we just don’t have the staff,” Cooper said. “We aren’t taking kids until we get more staff.”

The problem with losing essential services like daycare is the ripple effects it causes for parents, the other workers in our local economy.

“They’re needed in the community; they’re doctors, nurses, bankers–they can’t get to work when we can’t provide care,” Cooper said. “It’s definitely a domino effect.”

It’s why Cooper has raised rates to help pay employees more.

“There’s a certain point you have to tap out because childcare is already almost unaffordable for some families, we don’t want to make it harder for families,” Cooper said.

She’s also getting creative with incentives to try and hire more staff to help serve more waiting families.

“We’re now offering free childcare to staff. It’s a huge savings to their family and we’re hoping to get more staff in the door for those incentives,” Cooper said. 

Now it’s just a waiting game to see if these changes will have any impact on the continued staffing shortage in KELOLAND.

“I’m hopeful that it’s going to get better,” Cooper said. “It’s just terrifying as a business owner, I don’t know, I don’t know if it will or not, and I don’t know what else we can do.”

Cooper says the overhead costs of operating a daycare are ‘astronomical’, which is why operating at only half capacity due to staffing issues makes it incredibly difficult to continue operations.