Building Back Colorado’s Workforce and Economy through Early Child Care and Education
Authored by Burnie Zercher, EPIC Executive Member and Owner of Industrial Constructors/Managers, Inc.
As a business executive and founding member of EPIC Colorado and the EPIC Pueblo group, I have served on Colorado’s Preschool Policy Leadership Committee over the past 9 months and am proud to support efforts that bring awareness to the importance of early care and education in our economy. After volunteering for 14 years in Pueblo schools, I became sensitized to the issues of early childhood development and the importance of a quality early childhood education for all children. Learning the startling statistic that children who are not proficient in reading by 3rd grade are 4 times more likely to not graduate from high school gave me the insight that we need to go back to beginning, from birth to preschool. These early literacy skills and children’s brains are quickly developing, with more than 1 million new neural connections being formed every second in the first few years of life, and they need quality learning opportunities. Access to these opportunities is crucial to a child’s lifelong success, which in turn, will become your workforce.
In 1983, I founded Industrial Constructors/Managers, Inc. in Pueblo, Colorado. The business is currently thriving as a successful construction company operating in three states and embodies 100-120 employees. Being an advocate for our employees and for child care in Colorado goes hand in hand. Prior to the pandemic, half of Colorado families lived in communities where child care and preschool demand outpaced the supply at a rate of 3 to 1, or more. This has only gotten worse as estimates reveal 10% or more of early child care and preschool programs have closed because of the pandemic’s financial impacts over the past year. We also know 79% of parents reported adverse impacts on their productivity or work commitments due to child care problems before the pandemic, and Colorado saw over 20,000 women leave the workforce over the past year, disproportionately women of color and mothers of young children who had no choice but to leave their jobs when schools and child care programs closed.
As we continue the fight to end the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital for business leaders to support and promote early childhood education, development, and care. Colorado children are the future of every industry, from healthcare to construction to technology. It is our job to ensure our children are receiving the quality education needed to grow and excel. Their future and Colorado’s are in our hands. Investments in high-quality child care and early childhood education have high returns. Specifically, a contribution to early child care and education can produce an $8.60 return for each $1 invested. Our investments in early child care and education positively impact children’s educational success along with workforce development and the economy.
There is no path to economic recovery that doesn’t involve solutions to address the urgent need for families to access quality and affordable early child care and education. While there is much work to do, EPIC and the business community can shape the design and implementation of a $220 million investment being made into preschool across the state. Colorado voters saw value in addressing our teen vaping epidemic and investing in access to early preschool education for all children when they overwhelmingly passed Proposition EE on the ballot in November 2020.
As business leaders and employers, EPIC members bring a unique and innovative perspective to designing systems that serve our communities and working families well. EPIC’s Policy Committee drafted the “Business Communities Priorities for Early Education”, with the goal of investing in the success and skills of the future workforce while supporting the needs of the current workforce. Business leaders also see the impending universal preschool design process as a catalyst to reimagine a complicated and fractured system that currently places a significant burden on Colorado families and the thousands of small businesses providing early childhood care and preschool education.
COVID-19 has brought Colorado’s child care crisis to the forefront and business leaders can contribute to critical conversations on child care and early childhood education issues that were not always apparent or widely discussed prior to the pandemic. I invite you to learn more about EPIC’s work and the business community universal preschool design principles. The business community can make a great impact in the development of universal preschool and the support for future generations in Colorado. Please join me and other business executives in prioritizing early childhood and leaving an EPIC legacy.