When is the right time to invest in the future workforce of North Carolina? In Pre-K or when it is too late? That was the question posed by policymakers, private-sector leaders and academia at the Emerging Issues Forum in Raleigh, North Carolina, this week. The new leader of the Institute of Emerging Issues, Leslie Boney of Wilmington, worked with four-term North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt to create topics that are or will be top-of-mind issues to impact the near-term future of North Carolina.
What is KidONomiCs?
This year’s topic was KidONomiCs: Will today’s children have the same opportunities as their parents from earlier generations and access to achieve the American dream?
As NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson said at the start, “It is always the right thing to do to invest in children, but what works and who pays for the investment in education?”
Around each gubernatorial election year, North Carolina has had to take a hard look around the compensation for our public school teachers. This topic has been such a third rail topic that it almost had some consequences in recent years for this very valuable event.
The impact of the loss of large manufacturing employers in rural areas goes beyond the loss of jobs. When some of North Carolina’s largest employers have moved out of rural counties and that has had a huge impact on tax revenues and the possibility of public-private sponsorships of some educational programs where people are now falling through the cracks.
Economic Mobility in North Carolina and Southeast
Bank of America executive Charles Bowman of Charlotte used a Warren Buffett quote to say, “Society judges us on how we treat our very young and our very old.” This was said at a retreat when Buffett spoke to the bank’s leadership after his very large investment into Bank of America after the financial crisis.
North Carolina has some work to do in this area of the American dream, or upward economic mobility. Charlotte was recently ranked No. 50 as the hardest city to rise up from poverty and Mr. Bowman was quick to point out Raleigh and even Atlanta were No. 48 and 49 respectively, so this is a challenge in large urban areas in the Southeast.
Bowman is a community leader in the Charlotte region, involved in many committees and boards. He made it clear that “Talent always wins in economic development recruitment” as a crucial factor in recruiting jobs to the region.
Who is the Boss of the Automated Robots?
Bowman also said part of that job creation challenge is the continued rise of automation. He pointed out that in the largest BMW plant in Greer, South Caroline, automation, or work done by robots, has increased from an initial 30% of the production of the main sections of automobile manufacturing to 99% of the work now being done by robots 20 years later.
Susan Gates of SAS Software followed Bowman on the agenda by saying that these employers need talented and educated employees to design and program these robots that are doing the automated work.
Her boss is currently the wealthiest man in North Carolina, founder of SAS Software and Wilmington native Jim Goodnight. She quoted Goodnight by saying, “ You learn to read so you can read to learn.” She teased some information that will come out this Thursday when the Business Roundtable of private-sector leaders discuss how to improve regional public education. The SAS CEO, Red Hat CEO and Bank of America CEO will discuss their findings at this event Thursday in the Raleigh area.
The lineup of speakers at the event was full of policymakers and economists who had tons of factoids and insights from research to make the audience think. Economist Kartik Athreya of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond said economic mobility becomes harder when a person has spent 2-3 years on acquiring a college degree but did not complete the degree but still has $15,000 in student loan payments. Because they don’t have the degree they are unable to acquire a job that makes enough money to pay off the loan.
School of Fish?
The most memorable question or statement from the audience came from an older woman across the room. She made a passionate statement that her family was just two generations from slavery and her children were just one generation from the Jim Crow era. And she did not mince words when she stated that the elephant in the room was race and the performance in schools with predominantly African-American schools that do not have the same resources.
She made it very clear that we seem to be focused on the fish (the students), but maybe we should also look at the quality of the lake (the schools and communities) that these fish are swimming in. If the lake is polluted, it becomes very difficult for the fish to properly grow and thrive. I think we can all agree that this was a valid statement by a wise woman.