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Why NC Public Education Matters: A Business Perspective

Posted by Brook White on Wed, Dec 03, 2014 @ 02:43 PM

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CEO Laura Helms ReeceRussHelmsRho co-CEOs Laura Helms Reece, Dr.P.H. and Russ Helms, Ph.D. share their perspectives on the impact of NC public education on business.

For many years, public education has been a bipartisan priority in North Carolina. Members of both parties saw value in our K-12 public schools, the community college system, and the UNC system. NC public policy has reflected that point of view. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a major change, and, as business leaders, we’re very concerned.

Weakening public education creates two huge risks to our business. We are headquartered in NC and more than 90% of our employees are based here. Our business model requires that we attract, hire, and retain the best and brightest. For years, we’ve been able to rely on local universities (primarily UNC and NC State) to provide them. While we do recruit from out of state, a substantial amount of recruiting needs to happen locally for NC to be a viable headquarters location.

We both attended NC public schools and went on to complete both undergraduate and graduate degrees at UNC. 58% of our employees hold undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, or both from a UNC system school. We understand the quality of the education students at these schools receive, and have taken advantage of this incredible talent pool for the 30 years we’ve been in business. For our next 30 years to be equally successful (and hopefully more so), we need to maintain and grow this talent pool.
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Our second major risk is related to recruiting from outside of NC. While our preference is to hire locally and grow talent internally, many senior positions require recruiting outside our local area. Our competition for talent comes from the northeast (primarily Boston) and California. People considering relocating from those locations want to know they are coming to a progressive place with good schools. Our recent appearances in the national media certainly don’t paint that picture (and rightfully so).

Reasonable tax rates are important, but having the lowest tax rate at the expense of our schools is not. Businesses that need a highly educated workforce and whose success relies on attracting and retaining top talent will go elsewhere. And when they go, the jobs they provide will go with them. The types of jobs we provide are the types of jobs NC needs—high paying with good benefits and lots of stability. We’ve never had lay-offs and don’t plan on it, and we continued to hire throughout the recession.

As business leaders and citizens of this state, we strongly urge our government officials to change course and regain North Carolina’s status as a leader in public education. Support our schools, support our community colleges, and support our universities.