Kalamazoo event highlights the potential of business support for investing in kids

On Thursday, February 24, I spoke at an event in Kalamazoo about my book Investing in Kids. This “book signing” event was cosponsored by the Kalamazoo community group ISAAC, the Greater Kalamazoo United Way, and the Kalamazoo Great Start Collaborative. I appreciate their efforts to organize and publicize this event.

Julie Mack of the Kalamazoo Gazette has written an article about the event. Local radio station WKZO has a short video of part of the event.

What was most interesting to me about the event was that it showed the strength of local business support in Kalamazoo for early childhood education. Short statements in support of early childhood programs were made by Steward Sandstrom, CEO of the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce, Kathy Jones of PNC Bank, and Jim McIntyre, president of the Rotary Club of Kalamazoo.

As Steward Sandstrom highlighted, local business leaders in Kalamazoo and elsewhere have a long history of supporting educational enhancements that they believe will improve the community. Steward Sandstrom pointed to the business community’s efforts many years ago to convince the state to locate the institution that became Western Michigan University in the Kalamazoo area.

What is needed is to convince the business community that early childhood education is a cost-effective way to improve local educational outcomes and the local economy. As Steward Sandstrom said “We’re about helping our members grow and prosper, and a lot of that happens through education”.  (I rely here on the quotes from Julie Mack’s article.) He made it clear that the local chamber is “very supportive and appreciate” of local efforts to expand and improve preschool.

Kathy Jones highlighted the commitment of PNC Bank both locally and nationally to early childhood education. This commitment is exemplified by the Grow Up Great program of PNC.  In addition to providing philanthropic funds for early childhood education, PNC will also pay for its employees to do volunteer efforts in the area of early childhood programs.

As Kathy Jones said, preschool education can benefit the bank long-term because those children will “grow up and need banking services” (quoted from Julie Mack’s article). So the commitment is more than just philanthropy.

Is Kalamazoo unique in having a potential for business support for early childhood programs? I don’t think so. I think that in most local communities, many local business leaders can be convinced to support high-quality early childhood programs. To convince local business leaders requires marshaling high-quality research information on the benefits of early childhood programs for local economies.  In addition, this research information and advocacy must be communicated on a consistent basis through both one-on-one meetings and small group meetings.  Press releases and large events are helpful but not enough. More personal or  smaller group sessions are  more effective ways of engaging in a constructive dialogue with the business community about early childhood programs, and what role early childhood programs might play in an overall local economic development strategy.

About timbartik

Tim Bartik is a senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a non-profit and non-partisan research organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His research specializes in state and local economic development policies and local labor markets.
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