Crain's Cleveland Business

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ENTREPRENEUR LETS LOOSE THE HOUNDS Plans three locations of doggy daycare franchise.

SMALL BUSINESS

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Children and staff members interact at one of the five Northeast Ohio Sweet Kiddles locations. These photos were taken before the pandemic hit in 2020. | PHOTOS BY MORIAH ICE PHOTOGRAPHY

A FRAGILE INDUSTRY

Pandemic exposes weaknesses in local child-care businesses BY JUDY STRINGER

“Challenging” is the word local operators use to describe the current child-care business climate. Cindy Lehnhoff, the Daytona Beach, Florida-based director of the National Child Care Association, insists that characterization is generous. “We are a resilient group, and I think sometimes we choose our words carefully so people on the outside don’t get the impression we can’t handle it,” said Lehnhoff, a longtime preschool professional. “But it’s beyond challenging. We are to the point now where even with owner-operators and directors and teachers working overtime, we can’t meet the needs of our parents.” Not surprisingly, one major cause of service disruption is COVID infections, including breakthrough cases afflicting vaccinated workers. Having one or two teachers down can shutter a classroom.

margins are stretched to the limit when classrooms close. “We can’t charge parents for time that we’re not providing services,” he said. His business is “above breakeven,” Lane added, “but not much above, whereas before the pandemic, we were profitable.” “WE ARE TO THE POINT NOW WHERE And teacher abEVEN WITH OWNER-OPERATORS AND sences come amid personnel DIRECTORS AND TEACHERS WORKING alarming shortages. Four out OVERTIME, WE CAN’T MEET THE NEEDS every five childcare centers across OF OUR PARENTS.” the country are un— Cindy Lehnhoff, the director of the derstaffed, accordNational Child Care Association ing to a summer 2021 study by the National Association for the Educapunch.” tion of Young Children. Among the The pandemic is delivering a more than 7,500 early childhood one-two — and then some — punch centers NAEYC surveyed, 15% reto providers as well. Thomas Lane, ported a “major shortage” of six to president of New Adventures Early 15 fewer workers than needed. Learning and Child Development Center, with locations in Twinsburg and Mantua, said already thin profit See CHILD CARE on Page 17 Depending on the size of the facility, more than a few staff cases can jeopardize the entire operation. “We not only have to tell the parents we can’t open because we don’t have the staff, but that their child has been exposed to COVID,” Lehnhoff said. “It’s a one-two

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