Ventriss Op-Ed: Investing in Vermont’s Children: The Business Case

Nationally, states compete against each other to lure large employers with elaborate incentive packages. As important as these public investments are for those states, the Roundtable recognizes that Vermont cannot compete with them in supplying an array of expensive economic incentives for targeted business recruitment. However, we can certainly become a business relocation destination for all types of business and industry by building on an existing asset, and creating one of the best preK through higher education systems in the country. Businesses’ first need is a well-prepared and adaptable workforce so, by investing aggressively in our human capital beginning with our youngest children, Vermont can create a positive environment to attract new business and their workers at the same time that we bolster our existing businesses and ultimately create the workforce we need.

While we continue to recover from the effects of the recent recession, elected officials should look no further than to high-quality early childhood programs as the first dollars to invest for a guaranteed rate of return and with positive, lifelong effects on children and their working parents. Especially for our 19,000 children living in poverty or for children in other families with limited resources, definitive studies at the national level demonstrate that access to high-quality child care is the gateway to early vocabulary development, which leads to early literacy and ultimately to success in school. It is a way in which to break the cycle of generational poverty while preventing the achievement gap from happening in the first place. These investments can ensure that our workers/their parents are focused and productive; can reduce the need for and spending on costly remediation, corrects, and special education programs; and, can ensure a successful beginning for a lifelong learner.

The economy is still tough and resources are scarce; all the more reason for policy choices to benefit from a logical decision making framework. By weighing his new policy agenda against a set of guiding principles around economic growth and long-term fiscal sustainability, Governor-elect Shumlin will benefit generations of Vermonts today and well into the future.

The 110 CEO members of the Roundtable currently employ 15% of the state’s workforce and have an economic footprint of more than $136 billion. As stewards of successful, globally competitive companies with deeply held commitments to Vermont and their employees, we respectfully suggest that all of Vermont’s public officials consider these principles to guide their decision making around the allocation of scarce public resources.

Human Capital: To achieve economic growth and fiscal sustainability, government should seek to strengthen the skills and capacities of Vermont’s entire workforce.

Young Children: In developing human capital, Vermont should focus especially on children, from birth to age five and their families, to ensure that they get the very best possible start in life.

Evaluation: Analysis on the return on investment should be a key consideration in public resource allocation decisions.

Transparency: Government accountability should enable citizens to easily understand and participate in the assessment of revenue and spending decisions.

Sustainability: Vermont’ state budgets should be viable over the long term and elected officials should adopt a multi-year planning horizon that is longer than the re-election cycle.

These principles, which were developed by Pew Center on the States and the Partnership for America’s Economic Success, refer to “capacity-building” policy investments; the most critical to ensure future economic success and elevate everyone’s potential. They are also the hardest to accomplish because they require a long time horizon and a grounding vision of what we wish Vermont to be.

Fortunately, we already have the tools necessary for success because Vermont fares so well on many quality of life and education measures. The Roundtable looks forward to working with Governor-elect Shumlin and others to make these kinds of public investments in human capital our first economic development priority.