It Starts at Home

September 7, 2016

Boyd Austin, GMA President

Boyd Austin
The Olympic Games in Rio have come and gone. Like many of you, I marvel at the skill and outsized commitment the athletes dem­onstrate. But something else besides their talent and passion jumped out at me this year; when NBC would show the name of one of the athletes, they often included the name of their hometown.
There’s often a story of sacrifice and support, sit­ting there in the background that plays a powerful part in the success of Olympic athletes. And, it starts in their hometown with the effort and support of family, schools, coaches, mentors and sometimes, the whole town.
These hometowns are very much like the cities and towns we serve. While few of us will have an Olympic athlete from our home­town, the fact is our cities and towns play an important part in the lives of our citizens. For some, what we do as city officials directly impacts their ability to create a better future for themselves. There’s a great example of this from Valdosta that you’ll read about in more detail in a separate story in this paper.
Valdosta, working with the Great Promise Partnership (GPP), has created eight part-time jobs for at-risk high school students in their community. These jobs are spread throughout the city government and provide the students meaningful work, a supervisor and a mentor.
What Valdosta and GPP are doing to support these students and keep them in school is important.
According to GPP, in Georgia, one in three high school students will not graduate, and over one million Georgians over the age of 18 don’t have a high school diploma and are not prepared for the work­place. Seventy-five percent of the U.S.’s prison population is made up of high school dropouts. Dropouts also have higher public health ex­penditures, experience greater unemployment rates, and account for increased public assistance expenses. This has a significant negative impact on the economies of our communities and state.
There is good news. Each additional person who earns a high school diploma increases their income by 30 percent, and contrib­utes 43 percent more in tax payments. The bottom line is that each additional high school graduate yields $127,000 in higher government revenues and lower government spending.
What Valdosta is doing is not just good for the student and the economy; it’s good for the city, too. Through this initiative with GPP, the city is building trust between its youth and the city, and giving the students a great look at what a career in local government looks like.
GMA’s Member Services Advisory Council has begun to hear con­cerns about how cities will find qualified workers in the future. What Valdosta and other cities have done to employ youth is just one way in which city officials can begin to build a skilled workforce for the future.
Our hometowns may not produce an Olympic athlete, but we can certainly nurture those in our communities that need it, while cre­ating a skilled municipal workforce for the future. It just takes an Olympic-sized commitment to make it happen.

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