West Michigan PNC president authors commentary in Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS - Michigan business needs a top-notch workforce and one  of the best ways to develop it is through investments in early childhood, a West Michigan business leader wrote in the Oct. 10 edition of the Grand Rapids Press.

Under the headline "Gov. Rick Snyder's Office of Great Start will have long-term payoffs," Sean Welsh, PNC West Michigan Regional President, authored the following commentary in the paper:

Imagine what Michigan could be if every young child arrived for the first day of kindergarten healthy and ready to learn. Providing every young child in Michigan with a solid educational foundation would result in higher graduation rates and help create a workforce prepared for the jobs of a knowledge-based economy.

We took a big step toward creating that Michigan this month. The governor’s new Office of Great Start opened for business October 1 within the Department of Education. The goal is to ensure that more children are “school ready” when they start kindergarten, which ultimately helps them be “career ready” when they graduate.

This is good news for all of us. Early childhood education is fundamental to creating great kids, and great kids are fundamental to creating the Michigan we all want — a Michigan that is economically vibrant and a place where businesses and families thrive.

Research has confirmed that investing in high-quality early childhood services — services such as prenatal care, parenting education and preschool — ultimately saves money. Children who start school with the skills they need to succeed are less likely to repeat a grade or require special education and, down the line, end up on welfare or in prison.

A modest investment in high-quality early education and school-readiness initiatives yields big returns — as much as $16 in long-term savings for every $1 spent, according to a cost-benefit analysis of the Perry preschool program in Ypsilanti. These benefits are significant and long-lasting.

The Office of Great Start will transform how we view education in Michigan, recognizing that a child’s education starts long before the first day of kindergarten. The office will build a more unified approach to supporting young children and their families, an approach that increases access and quality and ensures young children enter kindergarten with skills, knowledge and dispositions they need to be successful.

The office will partner with the Early Childhood Investment Corporation to ensure continued private investment in early childhood. It will work with Great Start Collaboratives and other local initiatives to make sure the work in Lansing meets the needs of our individual communities.

We recognize that government cannot and should not do this work alone. Here in West Michigan, leaders from philanthropy, business, health care and education are committing their resources to ensure that systems and services are in place to help every young child enter school ready to succeed.

In support of that goal, in 2004, PNC created Grow Up Great, a 10-year, $100 million program in school readiness designed to help prepare children for success in school and life. PNC recently announced the extension of Grow Up Great by $250 million over 10 years to strengthen existing programs in math, science and the arts and reach more children, families and teachers.

We are working closely with a number of local organizations to enhance literacy education, language development and child care quality for West Michigan preschoolers.

We are not alone in caring about and working toward improvement. For example, a group of concerned CEOs from 13 West Michigan counties was formed in 2009 with the goal of increasing the region’s skilled workforce. This group, Talent 2025, has identified quality early childhood education as one of the most important elements in achieving their goal.

We have the opportunity to move from making incremental progress to taking huge leaps forward. Doing that will require continued investment and support — both public and private.
Today’s young children are tomorrow’s workers.

We all have a stake in positioning them to compete in the new economy. I look forward to working alongside my fellow business leaders and the entire community to make that vision a reality, with a focused and increased investment in early education.