A few years ago, I had an opportunity to work with Charlotte-based science museum, Discovery Place, on a new children’s museum concept which would eventually come to be known as Discovery Place Kids. One of my tasks on this project was to research the quantitative effects of early childhood learning on economic development and write a white paper on how a community investment in this area today might result in measurable economic benefits in the future. The results of that study, frankly, surprised me. Current available research indicates that there is at least a ten-to-one payback on early childhood learning expenditures; a far greater return on public investment than found with primary, secondary or post-secondary education.
This point was brought home to me again yesterday at the Smart Investing Educational Forum in Charlotte. I was part of the Iredell County delegation to this forum, the purpose of which was to make recommendations and determine priorities for educational funding for the State of North Carolina. I was joined in the Iredell delegation by several other business and community leaders, including Thomas Kinkaid, Amy Fuhman, John Pritchard, Valerie Chambers, Harry Stillerman, Alan Smith, Kelly Johnson and Marta Koesling; and we were, in turn, joined by delegations from Anson, Cabarrus, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Lincoln, Mecklenbueg, Rowan, Stanly and Union counties. In the crowd of more than 100 people, however, I saw only one other economic developer, Crystal Gettys from the Lincoln Economic Development Association.
Certainly, economic development organizations understand the importance of education in developing a skilled workforce, but most tend to focus their attention at the secondary or post-secondary level. Virtually every industrial recruiting presentation I have ever been part of has gone in depth about the education and vocational skill levels of the workforce, and typically that is what the client is most interested in. But, at a more fundamental level, those technical skills are built on a foundation of learning and education which begins long before college or high school, and that’s why I took a few hours out of my schedule to voice my support for early childhood learning.>