On Development: Business & Childhood (Scott Gordon Commentary)

by Scott Gordon  on Monday, Jun. 9, 2014 12:00 am  

Scott Gordon

There’s a proven correlation between childhood development and economic development. Research shows that investments in children’s health and learning have impressive economic outcomes, both in the short and long term. Rob Grunewald, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, says, “Investments in early childhood education can produce annual returns as high as 16 percent, adjusted for inflation, more than twice the long-run return to the stock market.”

That impressive ROI and a collective commitment to the next generation prompted Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the Natural Wonders Partnership, a group of more than 30 organizations and agencies working to improve the health of Arkansas children, to host the first Arkansas Healthy Children Summit. This two-day conference brought together leaders from business and the health community to discuss ways to make Arkansas a stronger place to recruit and retain talented employees and attract new and innovative businesses, as well as providing a positive community context in which families can grow and enjoy a positive work-life balance.

The summit was held Thursday and Friday in Little Rock with attendees hearing from national leaders discussing the economic reasons for investing in early childhood development. This meeting provided a forum for business leaders to learn about the economic benefits of early childhood development and provided an opportunity for leaders in health, social and educational areas to learn about successes and challenges in our state involving children and families.

Grunewald, whom I quoted above, and Rob Bradham, vice president of public strategies for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, were the keynote speakers. If all went as scheduled, they made a powerful case for increased interest and investment by business and communities in early childhood development. This information was complemented by a number of short presentations by leaders in various efforts to improve the health of our children through programs, policy improvement and research. On Friday afternoon, Chuck Welch, Wally Goddard and Freddie Scott focused on how communities, families and schools can help children grow into their full potential.

Grunewald reported that “children who reach kindergarten prepared to succeed in school are likely to perform well in school, graduate from high school and contribute to society and the economy. We all benefit. However, children who reach kindergarten behind tend to stay behind. They are more likely to drop out of school, commit crime and require remedial programs, and we all pay the costs.” Others noted the strong investment that Arkansas has made over the years in early childhood development but cautioned that these investments must be adjusted for cost increases over time in order to not erode the scope of services available.

Bradham said, “It makes perfect sense for businesses to advocate for and invest in the health of the children in their community.” Not only does such involvement create a better recruiting and retention environment, but it also reinforces the leadership role that business plays within the community. “Nearly every soft skill you can think of as well as problem-solving skills, communication skills and the ability to work well in a group are based on a foundation formed before a child ever enters kindergarten,” Bradham said. He makes a strong case for the social and economic reasons to make strategic investments in children under 5.

In addition to the keynote presentations, attendees had an opportunity to learn about a number of topics, including, among others, Arkansas’ leadership in the national expansion of home visiting programs, the growth of school wellness centers in Arkansas, challenges of food insecurity facing Arkansas children and their families and the importance of grade-level reading.

I am very proud of our state and the efforts we have made to improve the educational, health and wellness outcomes of our young children. But I, as many who attended the summit, know we can still do more.

Armed with information gained from this summit, the Natural Wonders Partnership will formulate strategies to continue to invest in our children and ultimately invest in our state.

Scott Gordon is executive vice president of Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. Email him at GordonSR@ARChildrens.org.

 

 

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