By: Jim Maran, President & CEO, Gwinnett Chamber
Last year, Gwinnett was the only community in the nation to successfully recruit two Fortune 500 Global Corporate Headquarters in less than 12 months. At the same time Gwinnett was receiving these global business accolades, Gwinnett County Public Schools was named a finalist for the 2009 Broad Prize for Urban Education, marking it as one of the nation's top five districts in improving student achievement for all students (and they're a finalist again this year).
I share this because it demonstrates a direct correlation between the success of business and job creation and the quality of students as they transition from K-12 education to postsecondary pathways and finally enter the workforce. It's also important to note this success does not happen by accident. For years, the Gwinnett Chamber has partnered in numerous ways with our education partners to provide ongoing two-way dialogue so that our teachers, principals and administrators know exactly what our employers need in terms of skills from their future workforce.
In numerous ways, Gwinnett County is the forerunner of what many would call tomorrow's prototypical successful U.S. community. We are home to top Fortune 500 global headquarters and have added more than 7,500 high-wage jobs and more than 130 major relocations and expansions in less than three years, precisely during the time the entire world has suffered from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Gwinnett is now home to one out of every six foreign-based businesses in Georgia, boasts economic development offices in China, and is the only U.S. Chamber to host a staffed office for the South Korean Small and Medium Business Corporation. We are a leader in technology, life science, and green energy clusters. And our entrepreneurial success stories include some of the biggest brands in the country.
This is exactly the business environment we must prepare our children for to ensure their future success in the workforce. Based on our conversations with thousands of employers, small and large, and my own 30-year career as a senior officer with Motorola tasked with opening up operations in Asia, Latin America, and more, I believe many of the strategies behind our local school systems' efforts to instill the critical "21st Century Survival Skills" in our students is the secret to our success. And I'm proud to report that our partners at Gwinnett County Public Schools, Buford City Schools, Gwinnett Tech, Georgia Gwinnett College, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine – Gwinnett Campus and others are all excelling in this area.
The benefits of a workforce with these skills are also exponential.
Tony Wagner, co-director of the Change Leadership Group at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education once told the State Education Technology Directors Association, "A lot of people think the skills that students need to learn for the workforce and the skills they need to learn to be good citizens are two separate sets. But they're not. What makes a student successful in the global workforce will make a person successful at life."
The role of educators – and our role as the business community – is to make sure tomorrow's graduates have solid foundations to excel in the 21st century job market. Doing so makes them not only a better future employee or employer, but a better citizen whose impact could change the course of history.