Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Building strong foundations from the start is smart business

From the Vancouver Business Journal:

Tom Mears and Vaughn LeinBy Tom Mears, Chairman of Burgerville and Vaughn Lein, Partner with LSW Architects.

Children in Clark County just headed back to school. Along with their new backpacks filled with new pencils and paper, are tucked not only their hopes and dreams for bright futures, but our economic necessity for them to grow into the productive and skilled future workers that our businesses need.

If we expect strong outputs from Clark County students, we need to provide them with strong inputs. If we hold schools, teachers and students accountable for results, we need to ensure that we’re making the right investments in the best systems that support that achievement.

In Clark County, 21 percent of high school students don’t graduate on time, yet 67 percent of all new jobs being created in an increasingly technology-driven economy will require post-secondary education by 2018. That’s an alarming skills gap, a waste of human potential and a looming crisis for businesses that need skilled workers. These workers will need both “hard skills” like reading, writing and math, as well as “soft skills” – the ability to analyze a problem, provide options and communicate them effectively in a fast-paced team environment.

What should we do?

Children are born learning. Research show that 90 percent of brain development occurs between birth and five years of age. Research also shows that investing in early education brings a high return on investment – as much as $8 for every $1 invested. If we’re looking to make the investment that drives the greatest economic and lifelong return, then we’ve got to invest more in early care and education.

Nearly 6,000 babies are born in Clark County each year. However, only about half of those children will start kindergarten with the key skills they need to be successful. Child development research shows that disparities in cognitive, social, behavioral and health outcomes associated with family income, race and ethnicity, home language and parent’s education attainment are apparent at nine months and the “preparedness gap” between poor kids and their peers by age four is significant.

The good news is that evidence also shows that access to high-quality early learning programs can close this achievement gap so that children arrive at kindergarten possessing the requisite social-emotional and cognitive skills needed to succeed on the first day of school.

Nobel-prize winning economist, Dr. James Heckman of the University of Chicago, contends that quality early learning leads to positive long-term results like staying in school and staying on-track.

And the good news continues. Quality early learning is not only good for our kids; it is good for our businesses – in both the short- and the long-term. Extensive research of high-quality early care and education programs shows that children in these program can earn 36 percent more at age 40; are as much as 44 percent more likely to graduate from high school; and are four times more likely to have earned a four-year college degree by age 30. Those are the types of outcomes that bode well for a skilled future workforce that will have greater spending power and contribute more to the tax base – fueling our economy forward.

It is time for us as a community to decide what we can do to help the more than 35,000 children five and under be prepared on the first day of school. If we give our children the solid learning foundation that will serve them for the rest of their lives, we are also ensuring our Clark County businesses have the skilled, educated workforce needed for sustained economic growth and security.

Just like building a house, it is wisest to lay a solid foundation from the start.

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