Which businesses should be interested in “the business case” for early childhood programs?

Sara Mead has a recent blog entry that comments on problems with the likely interest of business leaders in promoting state and local education. Her comment was in part prompted by Steve Perlstein’s comments on problems in local leadership for local economic development in the Washington, D.C. area.

The issue is as follows: as many businesses consolidate, including such businesses as banks, does this significantly weaken local business leadership that might support any local cause, whether it be early childhood programs, K-12 education, or local economic development? I commented on this problem for local economic development leadership in a 2003 paper.

If banks and other corporations consolidate, so that there is weaker local business leadership, who exactly in the business community are we supposed to make the case to for early childhood programs?

Several points should be noted. First, even if businesses are no longer headquartered in an area, their regional affiliates still have good reasons to support better local labor force quality. The only issue is whether institutionally, the global leadership of these large national and multinational corporations will give sufficient autonomy to regional affiliates to allow these regional affiliates to play an effective role in local campaigns for early childhood programs and other local educational priorities. No doubt this local autonomy varies from one large business to another.

Second, there remain many business leaders who are locally based, and who therefore have strong personal knowledge and investment in local issues such as early childhood programs. For example, real estate developers have a strong interest in policies that can raise local property values, which includes many educational improvements such as early childhood programs.

These locally-based businesses also include local retailers. The challenge is that many local retailers are quite small. It is therefore a challenge to reach this group. In addition, in many cases, because of their small size, such local businesses may have difficulty in finding the time and resources to be sufficiently involved in local policy issues. Perhaps they can be interested by tying educational initiatives into broader campaigns to boost local businesses, such as “buy local” campaigns.

Third, the business case can also be made to other local institutions, such as local hospitals and local higher education institutions. These institutions are typically quite tied to the local economy, and depend on the quality of the local labor force. In many communities, local hospitals and universities have played an increasing role in local economic development policy. They are logical candidates for playing a lead role in local campaigns for early childhood programs.

In sum, I think the increasing globalization of business still allows for appeals to local businesses and institutions for support for early childhood investment.  However, there may be a need for broadening what institutions are targeted for support, and a need for a change in how different businesses are approached.

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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