PITTSBURG — The Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a community discussion about child care capacity in Crawford County during its First Friday Luncheon.

Pittsburg has several child care providers, such as the Family Resource Center, but recent growth in the area has created a waiting list, which can have ramifications on economic and workforce development. The discussion Friday included state officials and local industry leaders.

“If you don’t have children five years old or younger, you may not realize this is an issue,” Chamber President Blake Benson said. “But as we’ve looked into it, it’s and even bigger issue than we originally thought, with cuts on our economic development, our growth and our workforce.”

Not having access to high-quality child care without enduring a long waiting list can even drive people employed in Pittsburg to move their families elsewhere.

Pitsco STEM Marketing Manager Ruthie Muller said Pitsco had an employee ultimately move her family to Joplin, largely because she could not get her child into a quality care program. Muller said people have even declined job offers from Pitsco when they realize they cannot find early childhood care for their children.

Along with leaving, without child care, workers often miss more work, have to use more personal days and struggle with scheduling.

The capacity issue was born mostly out of expense, according to local providers like Ann Elliott, who is executive director of the Family Resource Center, and Lorene Hoffman, director of the Pittsburg Community Child Care Learning Center.

The costs of training, supplies, overhead and more can add up quickly, making it hard to expand to accommodate more children.

“It’s expensive,” Elliott said. “We do joint trainings with other providers and often work together to try to boost the overall child care — whether it’s a center or home-based — in Crawford County.”

The Family Resource Center currently has a waiting list of approximately 120, and Hoffman said there is a waiting list at the Child Care Learning Center as well. Newborns are especially expensive and difficult to find care for.

“If you’re even thinking about having a child, and you want them to go to the center, you’d better get on the waiting list now,” Elliott said. “And we may have a spot by the time you deliver.”

While the luncheon was used to inform people about the problems, a discussion was started on possible solutions, and what the community can begin looking toward. State Representative Monica Murnan (D-Pittsburg) attended the luncheon and discussed efforts at the state level, as well as local options, such as employer supplemented child care.

She said Crawford County recognized the importance of early childhood care a long time ago.

“These conversations have been going on in Pittsburg for over 20 years, but now research and technology have caught up to what our hearts always told us. This is no longer a soft issue,” Murnan said. “Crawford County got involved early in child care and rode that way, but now the wave has stopped and we have to decide if we are going to stop with it.”

Kansas Action for Children Vice President of Advocacy John Wilson said 85 to 90 percent of brain development happens between the ages of zero to five. He also said by investing in quality early childhood care, communities can save the state over $200,000 per child, simply in costs from special education, welfare and more. The total savings when investing in all children from one class across the state comes to $173.49 million, according to Wilson.

“Just like a farmer invests in the ground, and doesn’t wait to pay attention when something sprouts up, we need to invest early in our children,” Murnan said.

— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at choener@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.