Monday, October 17, 2011

Do Quality Schools Have an Impact on Economic Development?


By Marc Saluk, Darke County Economic Development Director

I’m often asked my opinion about the correlation between new school buildings and economic development because of my job. But, despite the title, I am no expert on the matter. Near as I can tell, no one is. It’s a tough correlation to make statistically because there are a large number of factors that define both quality schools and economic development.

However, that doesn’t mean that economic development directors don’t get a good insight into the matter. Why is this? Because it’s our job to speak regularly to those that run the nations’ industries. While it may not breakdown neatly into statistical formula, direct feedback from decision makers is an excellent indicator about an issue.

Based on this, I can definitively state that school buildings DO matter. At least in the minds’ of some very key people-- those that create jobs.

I know they matter because I speak all the time to plant managers’ who decided NOT to reside in Greenville because of the older school facilities. Why do so, they say, when virtually every other district in the region has a modern facility, equipped with the technology it now takes to prepare students for the world?

I know they matter because of the number of executives who have told me their spouse’s were not impressed by their initial drive-by of the district’s buildings. I know this because of the number of plant managers’ that tell me it’s tough to recruit young professionals because they are turned-off by the district’s older facilities.

These are not my opinions. These are the opinions of many who view the school district from the outside and make decisions that affect local employment. Agree with them or don’t. At the end of the day, their opinions do impact our community in a very real way.

If I had to guess, I would say their opinions are based on more than the buildings themselves. Speaking with them also seems to indicate that the lack of new buildings also speaks to the community’s pride. Again, this may be unfair but…well, you know what our parents always told us that life was…

What’s MY opinion? I’ll do something unusual here and quote myself because I think I summed up my thoughts pretty well in an article written by The Advocate several months ago. At the risk of being a bit self-indulgent, here I go…quoting me:

“It’s hard to directly and definitively correlate jobs and school buildings.  However, there is little question about two things: job retention and growth is tied in part to local education and work force quality. And, the quality of that local education and work force is, in these days of increased technology in the classroom, tied in part to the existence of modern facilities for a school district.”

New resources for our children AND a better prospect of a good job for them in the future? To me, the combination makes a new school facility a tough thing to vote against this November