New Director Drew Theophilus.

New Director Drew Theophilus.

2016 marks the fifth year since a core group of Nebraska’s business leaders first came together in support of strategic investments in our state’s youngest children. I am incredibly proud and privileged to have been one of the founding members of the Nebraska Early Childhood Business Roundtable, and I am particularly honored to succeed Pete Festersen as its new director.

As you know, Nebraska faces significant challenges in its ability to field enough skilled, capable workers to meet the existing and emerging needs of business and industry. These challenges are compounded because too many of our youngest children— approximately 64,000 kids under age 5—are facing risk factors that can undercut their ability to succeed in school, and develop the skills and character we will need in our future workforce.  To get ahead of that problem, a problem that touches every community in our state, we need to ensure that more of these kids begin life with the kinds of experiences that will help them succeed academically and socially, and keep our state’s talent pool competitive and growing. That begins with high-quality opportunities for early life development, and that’s the rationale for the work of the roundtable.

Under the leadership provided by Pete and Roundtable Chair Jim Krieger of Gallup, our efforts have paid dividends. We have played a critical role in promoting many pieces of important legislation to expand practical, fiscally accountable opportunities for the early development of our youngest children.  The roundtable helped to increase investments in Sixpence, Nebraska’s signature, public-private early education funding mechanism, to reach more infants and toddlers at risk with quality early learning experiences. We supported legislation to create the state’s first quality rating and improvement system for publicly subsidized child care, helping to ensure that our taxpayer dollars are being used responsibly to prepare young children for lifelong success.  These and other efforts are already changing the odds for the next generation of Nebraska’s citizens and workers. But there is much more to be done.

I come to the work of coordinating the roundtable from fifteen years as a practicing attorney. Though I live in Omaha, I am a native of Norfolk and appreciate the unique needs of Nebraska’s major metropolitan and rural areas.  I’ve been lucky to have gained valuable insight into the importance of children’s development through my mom, a lifelong elementary school teacher and counselor, and my own experience as a parent. I’m looking forward to expanding my role in advancing this conversation and pursuing solutions that make sense for Nebraska business.

Over the coming months, I look forward to getting to know each of you and come to a better understanding of your specific concerns and interests as they relate to economic development in your community and the state as a whole.  The roundtable has emerged as one of the most informed and credible voices in important public policy discussions statewide.  Our membership can look forward to even more opportunities to become actively engaged with this critical issue, for example through signing on to an op-ed piece in your local paper, by recruiting a new member to the roundtable or by contacting your district senator.

It may sound cliché, but it is absolutely true that, collectively, these simple efforts can have an enormous and lasting impact on the social and economic profile of our state.  I am thrilled to be part of the team and ready to see what we can accomplish together in 2016 and beyond.