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Three questions worth answering

Three questions. That’s what panelists gathered at a community roundtable on Thursday were asked.

To paraphrase, the speakers were asked:

1. To define economic development and educational development.

2. To discuss how they relate to each other, in Alabama today.

3. And to discuss what needs to happen to improve both, to build a better Alabama for tomorrow.

Three simple questions … With answers and discussions that could fill days, not just two hours.

The “Bridging Business and Education Economic Development Success Seminar” was an outgrowth of the Seven Steps for Success strategic planning and community planning work of the Troy City Schools. Working with Dr. Judson Edwards, who serves on the school board and who oversees the economic development programs at Troy University, the roundtable drew nearly 100 representatives from business, education (higher and K-12), government and the community together on Thursday morning.

They listened as three panelists well-versed in the various aspects both economic and educational development offered insight into how to build those bridges. The panelists: Neal Wade, director of the Alabama Development Office; Dr. Rod Hinton, retired CEO and GM of RealTree Outdoors and a former teacher and school administrator; and Dr. John Schmidt, senior vice chancellor for advancement and external relations at Troy University, each brought a different perspective to the table.

But they also brought a common understanding: that strong public schools are key to economic development. The two, quite frankly, go hand-in-hand. In sharing candid stories about our state’s impressive foray into the international economic development realm, Wade talked about a visit to the Mobile City and Baldwin County school systems as part of a recruiting trip for Thyssen-Krupp. “I was worried what we would find,” he said. “By the end of the day, I was proud of what we had to offer.”

And Thyssen-Krupp chose to locate in Alabama, bringing 3,000 plus jobs to our state.

It wouldn’t have happened without the reassurance of a strong public school network – to provide education for employees’ children and to train and develop the workforce Thyssen-Krupp will need.

Those types of stories are common among economic developers and government leaders. But they need to be heard by business owners and community leaders, who play a key role in supporting public education on a local level. Now that the conversation has begun, community and education leaders can start to figure out just how businesses can most effectively support and enhance education – and how education can help build the bridge with economic development.

The discussion may have started with three questions, but the answers and possibilities are limited only by our imagination and willingness to speak up.

Stacy Graning is publisher of The Messenger. She can be reached via e-mail at stacy.graning@troymessenger.com.