GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - About 100 business leaders gathered at the Knight non-profit center Wednesday to learn how they can invest in the future of south Mississippi - their future employees.
As Blake Wilson, President of the Mississippi Economic Council put it, early childhood education is really an economic issue.
"Consider that 85 percent of workers' children are in some kind of daycare in Mississippi today. This is a huge issue, because it relates to absenteeism. It relates to having happy workers, workers that aren't worried about their kids."
A representative from the national Committee for Economic Development out of Washington, D.C., was among those who presented at the conference.
Michael Petro said, "Businesses lose some $3 billion annually in childcare breakdowns. So it's not just a long term issue. It's a short term issue."
By investing in the education of young children, businesses would be growing a better workforce, ultimately bringing more opportunities to Mississippi. Some major corporations are already doing it, like Chevron's Excel by 5 initiative.
"Chevron has been at this for about 10 years," says Steve Renfroe of Chevron. "What early childhood needs more than anything else in the state is leadership, and businesses can provide that leadership. The money is not the most important thing. The leadership is."
In August, a group of other big businesses helped launch Mississippi Building Blocks, which aims to improve existing childcare centers. Dr. Laurie Smith is the executive director of that program.
"There are 1,740 licensed child care centers in Mississippi," Dr. Smith said. "Those are all small businesses. They need the help and resources to provide the quality of care that the research says young children need."
Dr. Smith goes on to explain how studies have shown the importance of reaching children at an early age.
"There's so much research that shows 90% of brain growth occurs before the age of three, and we invest the least amount of money at this time in a child's life."
Mississippi in particular spends very little on early childhood education. In fact, we are one of only ten states that put little or no funding in it.
When asked how Mississippi compares to the rest of the nation in early education, Petro responds, "I think there's a long way to go. But I think with the work and Chevron and AT&T and several other companies, you're on the right path."
Leaders want to emphasize, you don't have to be a big company to get involved. Again, it's not about the money, it's about the manpower. Volunteer, share managing strategies, talk to your local chamber, or learn more about the some of the programs already in place, like Excel by 5 or Mississippi Building Blocks.
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