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The Columbus  Area Chamber of Commerce is hosting an early childhood discussion at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Chamber office where Drew Theophilus, director for Dividends Nebraska, is scheduled to be the main speaker of the afternoon.

Early childhood issues in Columbus are some of the main concerns among the Chamber and the community. It is a topic that has been talked about for more than 20 years, said K.C. Belitz,  president of the Columbus  Area Chamber of Commerce.

Many committee members of the Chamber came forward  on more than one occasion asking why early childhood education was part of the Legislative priority, so the discussion will be a good way to answer those questions, Belitz said.

Dividends Nebraska is a statewide group with the goal of spreading the importance of early childhood for public and private investments. As the director, Theophilus often travels around the state advocating for early childhood. During the discussion, he will be highlighting the importance of early childhood for local businesses and future economy.

It's not uncommon for small communities like Columbus to struggle to recruit new businesses because of a lack of skilled workforce.

According to the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s recent chamber survey of Nebraska’s business leaders, skilled workers are the highest in demand with 80 percent of its respondents stating that their community or business are facing a shortage.

Establishing high-quality early childhood is one of the answers to the shortage of skilled workforce in Nebraska, specifically in the rural communities, Theophilus said.

Because of the shortage, most local businesses will have to outsource workers and employees from different towns or from out of state. This leads to other issues because new families that move into town don’t have a place to send their children during the day.

According to the Buffet Early Childhood Institute, up to 80 percent of children under the age of 5 in Nebraska are in some form of paid childcare service, hence, the lack of childcare services adds to the many obstacles local businesses face to recruit out-of-state employees.

In order to retain local high school and college students, the community needs to have available jobs, housing and childcare services.

“If we are going to grow our communities and keep them sustainable, we need to be able to provide the quality of life and services that you can get at any community across the state or in the country,” Theophilus said.

Childcare services should be more than simply having someone supervise a child during the day, Theophilus said.

According to the American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, 33 percent of children under the age of 5 at Platte County are at risk of failing in school.

For children ages 0-5, it is a critical time for brain development and serves as the best time to pick up essential skills such as critical thinking and impulse control. Therefore, high-quality childcare services should be able to provide a learning environment for cognitive skill development and growth.

With that early start, there’s a higher chance for the children to grow into skilled workers and reduce the number of at-risk students, Theophilus said.

In the long term, high-quality childcare services can help increase the number of a skilled workforce to fuel the economy, whereas in the short term, it can attract more young families into the community.

Belitz hopes that the discussion can help shed light on the importance – in a business perspective – of making investments in early childhood education.

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