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Summit urges businesses to recognize the benefit in early childhood investment
By Brenda Brissette-Mata
Mid-Michigan business leaders were charged to “be excited, challenged and inspired” at the opening of the first Great Lakes Bay Regional Early Childhood Business Summit in Midland.
Tom Lamb, senior vice president for government affairs for PNC Financial Services Group, spoke at the summit.
“PNC believes in the power of early childhood,” he said.
“We’re bankers. Cognitive, non-cognitive ... we may not get that, but ROI (return on investment) is something we understand. Some economists estimate a return as high as $16 to $18 for every $1 invested in high quality early childhood programs. That’s a powerful return. That we understand.”
The organization’s more than 55,000 employees nationwide take part in PNC’s initiative “Grow Up Great.” Each employee receives 40 hours paid time off to volunteer in “Grow Up Great” endeavors. The program serves to help children, particularly underserved children, from birth to age 5 achieve success in school and life.
Since the program started in 2004, nearly two million at-risk preschool children have been served through grants and innovative programming supported by “Grow Up Great” that emphasize math, science, the arts and financial education for young children.
Lamb said that measurement is a huge part of what they do.
“We need to understand what effect the dollars we give away have,” he said. The initiative has developed collateral materials for teachers and parents; given $43 million in direct grants; volunteers have logged 250,000 hours; provided professional development for 75,000 teachers; and distributed 2 million ready for school kits.
“We still give to symphonies and art museums,” Lamb said. “But now we ask first, ‘how are you going to bring early childhood into this?’ ”
Diane Middleton of the Midland Chamber of Commerce said that businesses do not naturally assume that investing in early childhood makes good “business sense.”
“Most people are more likely to think early childhood/education, not business,” she said. “But it really is a great fit.”
Senior Economist with W.E. Upjohn Institute and Tim Bartik said evidence shows that high quality early childhood programs, like business incentives, can provide large local economic development benefits like higher per capital local incomes and increased property values.
Studies show that 65 percent of educated adult employees remain to work in the state where they grew up significantly increasing overall labor quality. “That’s a key factor for any community wanting to attract better jobs,” he said.
From labor supply to property values, Bartik explained the impact quality early childhood experiences have on the economy, particularly the local economy.
“We have to get business to understand that early childhood development is essential for growth,” he said.
“We know more about why preschool works than third grade,” Bartik said sharing details of studies like the Perry Preschool study from Ypsilanti, that found children who had high quality early childhood experiences have higher earnings as adults than those who don’t.
PNC has devoted $350,000,000 through their early childhood initiative, which caused some small business leaders in attendance to wonder what part they could play.
“What if I think I’m too small to make a difference?” asked Midland businessman James Borin.
“You have a phone,” Bartik said. “Make a call to your legislator.”
“The voice of a small business oftentimes means more than a large corporation,” Lamb said.
“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” Bartik added.
Ed Oberski, Chief Executive Officer of MiWorks, said that the only way Michigan and the nation can compete in this global economy is to have a competent workforce.
“Early childhood is a key piece,” Oberski said. “I just see the data and the impact it has and I know it is undeniable.”
Hosted by the Bay-Arenac, Saginaw, Gratiot-Isabella and Midland Counties Great Start Collaboratives, the summit explained to area business leaders why early childhood investment is imperative to economic growth.
More than 115 people attended the summit, including area legislators, State Reps. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth), Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) and Jim Stamas (R-Midland) and Sen. John Moolenaar (R-Midland).
Elizabeth Shepherd, coordinator for the Bay City Great Start Collaborative, said the summit was meant to show business leaders the importance of being part of early childhood investment. “We need business to understand that we need them to get on board, high quality early childhood programs help create the workforce of the future.”