Guest column: Quality education and economic change

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 28, 2002

For the past several months, TEAM members have been circulating throughout the community, presenting information about the schools and the excess levy to various groups, discussing those same topics with individuals, and writing columns like this one. One of TEAM’s messages has been that it makes good economic sense to vote &uot;Yes, yes&uot; on the levy questions Nov. 5. But some voters may be asking: How can raising taxes be an investment in the local economy? The answer lies in how seriously we take efforts to promote local economic development.

By now most residents of this community know that Ford is considering building a warehouse and distribution center in Albert Lea. But what many may not yet know is how important a quality public school system is to a major company like Ford. Decision-makers at Ford are keenly interested in the level of support that public education gets in a community.

Readers may already have noted the letters by Paul Sparks, Albert Lea City Manager, and Pam Bishop, director of Greater Jobs, who reported that Ford officials were so interested in public education that they asked about our schools before they asked about anything else, including details of any financial incentives being offered.

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Why are they interested in good schools? Because they will be asking managers, Ford employees with the experience and loyalty necessary to start up a new facility, to move from their current homes to new homes in Freeborn County. Those people &045; many of whom will be parents &045; won’t be happy about moving if the schools don’t measure up to the schools where they are now. It’s only common sense for Ford decision-makers to anticipate those concerns as they select where to build their facility.

Other major corporations &045; both big and small &045; are going to think along the same lines, if they plan on asking some of their own current employees to transfer to this community. Parents care about their children’s schools, and employers &045; at least the ones that are worth courting &045; care about the &uot;school&uot; concerns of employees who are parents.

In the same way, individuals with the kinds of skills the community needs, like physicians and nurses, will also be looking at schools as they decide whether to move here. Whether we like it or not, the quality of education here is part of what keeps this community competitive as we look for new companies or new people to locate here. If we aren’t willing to invest in our community, including public education, who will?

A public school system that benefits from the support of the community also becomes an investment in home-grown economic development. Obtaining a good education locally means that managers and supervisors and ordinary employees will already be here, ready to work when work becomes available. A community that invests in its schools also makes it easier for former pupils to stay in the community to raise their own families, or to plan on returning after schooling, military service or jobs elsewhere.

The members of TEAM want you to know that voting &uot;Yes, Yes&uot; on the excess levy question on the ballot Nov. 5 will be an investment in this community’s schools. It will send a message to all potential employers &045; both homegrown and out-of-town &045; that Freeborn County is a good place to set down roots.

This article was written with contributions from David Behling, Mike Moore and Dennis Dieser. For more information about TEAM or the excess levy contact Dennis Dieser (373-7451), Tom Ehrhardt (377-2409), Becky Johnson (377-3812) or Terri Wichmann (373-3530).