Good business decisions at a premium

Published 9:20 am Saturday, July 2, 2011

Today, those of us who call Western Tidewater our home are staring change dead in the eye.

A changing economic identity, population and demographic due to the westward expansion of Hampton Roads, a decrease in the number of small family farms. All of these and more are factors that are driving the evolution from our former to our future selves.

We don’t necessarily have to like these changes; indeed some will fight them tooth and nail. But we need to know that, like it or not, our little corner of the world is changing.

I lay that out as groundwork for a discussion about the importance of our public schools and the role they will play in our collective future success. It would be nearly impossible to overstate how important a strong pubic school system is for the long-term health and viability of any community.

But more specifically, to a community undergoing transformation in the way ours is, good schools are absolutely essential.

Our schools impact nearly every facet of our economic future. Businesses will make decisions about locating and investing in our community based on whether we can produce a quality workforce for them to employ. Younger residents making quality-of-life decisions on where to raise their families often stay or go based on how well a community can educate their children.

The economic ramifications are obvious and extensive; at stake are a more robust industrial tax base, improved property values, a generally wealthier population that is able to pump more dollars into our local economy. In many ways, the vitality of our schools will determine the health of our local economy.

But while the relationship between local schools and local business is inextricably linked, we often fail to behave accordingly. Business leaders often refer to “the schools” in such a detached and dispassionate way as to indicate there is no recognition of the connection between having quality schools, a strong local economy and the impact on their own financial well-being.

And rarely do those who claim to acknowledge the bond behave in a way that demonstrates they feel any ownership stake in the schools whatsoever. As a business community, we can — and must — do better.

There are many opportunities available for business leaders to get involved and claim an ownership stake in the results achieved by our schools, as most offer various mentoring, tutoring and reading programs that are available for volunteers to participate in. Yet as a business community, we mustn’t view taking a proactive role in the schools as simply an opportunity to volunteer a little time or give back to children.

Volunteerism is important, and I believe that giving back to one’s community is the right thing to do. But taking ownership of the schools, making a sincere effort to improve the quality of the students our schools are able to produce, to help teach children leadership skills and work ethic and skills that are required to become valuable assets to our economic future, doing those things isn’t just about giving back; it’s a good business decision.

And in our changing little corner of the world, good business decisions are at a premium.