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Strengthening Education for Economic Development in Flagstaff

Arizona is currently working on improving its education system in order to attract more businesses to the state and retain existing ones. Making the state more business friendly is a collaborative effort between the government, school districts, and families.

Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel Corp., is the head of Arizona’s education reform plan and chairman of BASIS Schools Inc. He said that American children are not being educated to compete and work in society’s competitive market. According to Barrett, of the students who graduate from high school, only a quarter of them will obtain a college degree, which is below the nation’s average.

“Overall, only about 25 percent of our children will get a college degree and this percentage is below the national norm, which currently places the United States only about mid-level in OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) statistics,” Barrett explained. “In short, we are not educating our children to compete in the 21st Century.”

Barrett said America is proud about its high standards of living, but needs to reorganize how education is presented to students. He explained that some national programs are working to produce a core curriculum for students across the country to increase expectations.

“Nationally, there are a few programs that suggest the states are getting serious about improving education,” Barrett said.  “The governors and chief state school officers are working with the private sector to create a state driven, internationally benchmarked common core curriculum in math, language arts, and science.”

Gypsy Denzine, dean of the college of education at NAU, said that business plays an important role in education. She said it is important for businesses and educational leaders to work together to improve the economy, just as the Arizona Business Education Commission (ABEC) does.

“[Business] plays a huge role, and it’s an advantage,” Denzine said. “We need our business leaders to be partners, and that’s probably a shift that’s occurred in the last several years. We have a very strong group in the state called ABEC, and they are business leaders who are committed to improve the P-20 system. And we’re grateful that Mr. Barrett has stepped up and is an advocate, and wants to help improve education in the state.”

Denzine said improving education is a combined effort of scholars, businesses and parents working together, which will help bring more businesses to the state. She said Arizona’s economy is reliant on the efforts from these different forces.

“In order for new businesses to be attracted to Arizona and to cities, people want to know that they’re bringing their families to a good school system,” Denzine said. “So the economic development of our state is dependent on good schools, and good teachers, and good educational leaders.”

Carol Curtis, director of the Coconino County Career Center, says that Coconino County has one of the most educated labor forces, which is an important tool for attracting businesses. She says the career center helps people improve their résumés and find the right employers to fit their skills.

“We are the most highly educated county in the state,” Curtis said. “So our issue is often not [whether] our job applicants have enough job skills or educational level, they often have more than some employers appear to need. A lot of it is just polishing up their résumé and helping them hone their job search in, so they’re connecting with the right employer.”

Curtis says that a reason businesses may not be quick to hire new workers is due to a fear of another recession, and the state’s one cent sales tax, due to expire soon. She explained that if businesses are uncertain about their future budget, they will be more hesitant to hire people.

“I also think people are still fearful of the double-dip recession,” Curtis said. “I think in our state, people are particularly concerned about the impact of the one cent sales tax, which is going to expire. What’s happened to Coconino County, City of Flagstaff, the hospital, [and] a lot of places that get funds from the state – if the state doesn’t have a way to keep giving us funds, we will have our budgets cut again.”

According to Curtis, within Economy Collaboration of Northern Arizona (ECoNA), a business attraction team works to bring in new companies to the area. She says that when a business expresses interest in the Coconino County area, they reply quickly with what the company needs to hear to make their decision.

“We do have a very powerful coalition, ECoNA, and in that group we have a business attraction team,” Curtis said. “We always have teams that are working on bringing in new businesses. We have some that are coming in that are going to be quite exciting; we have a lot of things that are opening up. I think a part of it is when a business looks in our area, we need to respond very quickly and let them know about our tax situation [and] incentives for them.”

John Saltonstall, business expansion and retention manager for the City of Flagstaff, says Arizona is attempting to collaborate with cities to make the state more business friendly. He said businesses work with school districts to make sure students are learning skills they are looking for.

“I think that the state is really trying to coordinate more with the local partners so they can be responsive and create a more effective environment, a [friendlier] environment for businesses, and to market all the good things that are happening in the state,” Saltonstall said. “I believe that there is [a correlation between education and business]; I think it needs to be strengthened. In town here, I know that we have a number of people on the business side trying to work with the education system; many are trying to tap into the school district. There are programs that are already available for trades and such, but beyond that, the businesses [need] certain skills and behaviors.” FBN


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