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Where Does Economic Development Begin?

There has been a lot of talk about economic development in Athens over the past year, with the recruitment of Caterpillar, the Mayor’s economic development task force and reworking of the governmental mechanism for economic development and the general economic recovery opening the way for private parties to look to spend money on development.  As anyone who has talked to one of the Four Athens partners knows, we take a much more inclusive view of economic development, looking beyond the big players to the startups in this town who hold the potential to put Athens on the map as a haven for idealistic makers and shakers.ir-leasing.ru

In the midst of this, Jim Thompson’s recent writing about how economic development begins in the schools caught my attention.  That is exactly one of the directions Four Athens is reaching out to help feed startups  the talent that they will need as they grow.  Much talk has been had about preparing our population and youth for the jobs that are vs. the jobs that were.  We have also talked about the perils of basing our hopes on a service economy to replace a manufacturing economy.  The U.S. will never be the manufacturing giant that we were in the last century and the wages in a service economy are not enough to sustain growth and wealth that will support a middle class.  For that reason, we need to be preparing for the technology based economy that is sustainable and will provide incomes that can move the next generation beyond where we are now.

This begins with providing opportunities in our schools for true technology education.  Right now, technology education even in high school, consists of learning to use programs in Microsoft Office and CAD (computer aided design) as opposed to teaching how to program and code in the newest languages and develop creative new ways to do things.  Most of those young people who are doing great things technologically are doing it on their own, outside of an academic environment.

We are not doing what we can to encourage our children to move into the working environment of this century.  We need to reform technological education, starting in high school but quickly moving to the middle and elementary schools.  There are numerous ways this can be done and we need to explore them.  We can have coding classes, teach robotics, have summer coding or gaming camps, weekend workshops, code-in lock-ins – there are hundreds of ways to engage children in technology.

Is there money for this?  That is a much easier recruitment than getting a large company to relocate to Athens.  There are many corporations who are providing capital to schools and other educational programs to help train future employees.  A charter school in Oklahoma has partnerships with several corporations to provide funding for the school to run an incubator for high school students, giving them the opportunity to work on startup businesses while completing their high school education.  Some of these businesses also provide internships for the students, to get them real world experience so they will not come out of high school with unrealistic expectations of what they need to be successful.

There is no reason Athens-Clarke County cannot build on these examples.  We just need to decide that the schools play a big role in the economic development of the community.  Let’s start that conversation.

Ginny Morris
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