A Higher Calling; Our View - Business Leaders Turn to Education as Economic Development Tool. Good Move

Article excerpt

When explaining the key to unlocking the economic development puzzle, the frontman for the St. Louis business community doesnt waste his breath on right-to-work laws, the latest tax incentive schemes or tort reform.

He talks about education.

Education attainment has to be the No. 1 priority, says Joe Reagan, the president and CEO of the recently re-named St. Louis Regional Chamber.

Specifically, St. Louis needs to raise its number of college graduates, Mr. Reagan says. The region needs more of them. Get them, and businesses will come.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Reagan and Gov. Jay Nixon pushed similar themes to about 1,200 business leaders gathered at the Chase Park Plaza for the chambers annual dinner.

It shouldnt have taken this long for business and political leaders to focus on education as a way to improve the economy. For years, the data has been clear in that regard.

The very first thing CEOs want to know when considering a city for relocation is how many college graduates live in the region, says Doug Koch, senior vice president of St. Louis-based Brown Shoe Co. Studies from think tanks along the political spectrum, from the Rand Corp. to the Brookings Institute, point to investments in early education through graduate school paying economic development dividends.

According to historical Census Bureau data, there is a direct correlation between higher educational attainment and higher per- capita income. Higher income means more taxes to fund government services. It means a regions residents have more money to spend on goods and services. Thats an environment that attracts business.

So the fact that both the St. Louis business community and the states top elected official are discovering together that education is the key to the regions economic future is fabulous news.

But it also begs the question:

When will the Missouri Legislature get on board?

This week, the Legislature debated some of the same, old, tired, so-called economic development proposals. The Senate advanced a measure to create a new tax credit to recruit sporting events that, for the most part, are already coming to St. …