Anytime area companies announce plans for a $20 million investment, it’s big news.
In January 2011, SRC, Inc. announced a $5 million commitment to the “Say Yes to Education” program designed for the Syracuse City School District (SCSD). Today, area companies have invested or pledged nearly $7 million toward the $20 million goal.
To find out why corporations, renowned for being tight-fisted about their investments unless they see a return, are eager to support Say Yes, I invited five area executives, whose companies had all committed at least six figures, to join me in a discussion. Paul Tremont (SRC), Allen Naples (M&T Bank), Jim Fox and Terry Madden (O’Brien & Gere), and Troy Scully (Lockheed Martin) were eager to share their thoughts.
Tremont led the discussion by citing the company’s long-standing “… commitment to philanthropy with a focus on the Syracuse community.” Naples, who is also an SRC board member, focused on the “… need to build and strengthen the community.” Scully, Fox, and Tremont all noted that their companies already had commitments to various, local educational programs, but Say Yes was a strategic program that provided K-12 academic, social, emotional, health, and wellness support to help students climb the ladder of opportunity.
Fox pointed out the importance of branding for his company, something echoed by all the interviewees. O’Brien & Gere is concerned about “… client and employee satisfaction, in addition to shareholder approval … Clients are very concerned these days whether they are working with vendors that are socially responsible and have a sustainable corporate model … We are also concerned about retaining and attracting employees who want to be proud of the company they work for. This is reflected by the large number of our employees who volunteer their own time to tutor and mentor area [high school and junior high school] students.”
In addition to a focus on philanthropy and branding, the executives all cited self-interest. SRC, O’Brien & Gere, and Lockheed built on their engineering prowess to be competitive. All have a commitment to finding and developing employees who are strong in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). “It’s the pipeline for our future engineers, scientists, and also our manufacturing workers,” says Fox. Scully says its “STEM focus is a national program for Lockheed Martin to place engineers in the classroom,” not only to develop student education “… but also teacher training.” Tremont added that the Say Yes program helps to guarantee our “… potential employee pool.” Fox added another dimension: “With the baby-boom generation retiring, competition for talent is heating up.”
“You don’t have to be an engineering firm to be concerned,” noted Naples. “We need a well-educated community to ensure that our corporations are competitive and that we have [prosperous] customers. Every company needs to be concerned.”
What measures do you use to track the success of your investment? I inquired.
“Decreased drop-out rate, better scores in math and science, and [enhanced] college entrance,” Tremont responded. “Reduced truancy, higher graduation rates [from high school], and former students remaining in Syracuse,” Naples added. In addition to the above, Fox plans to track over the next three to five years how well Say Yes “… prepares the kids for college” and how many corporations “expand their internship, shadowing, mentoring, and tutoring programs to expose more students to opportunities for local employment.” All agreed that it’s vital for business to work with the educational establishment to ensure that graduates are educated for the jobs available.
The participants in the discussion are committed to the need to “grow” our own future workers, including those living in the inner-city. This is the only way to ensure a competitive work force and a sustainable business model. Although philanthropy and corporate branding are important motivators to invest in the program, the discussion clearly focused on self-interest as a critical rationale for supporting Say Yes.
Education has long been the traditional path to opportunity in our society. SRC, M&T, O’Brien & Gere, and Lockheed hope their example will encourage others to invest dollars in the Say Yes educational-scholarship fund; provide internship, mentoring, and tutoring options; encourage their employees to volunteer in the program; and participate in local Say Yes marketing efforts.
Today, when corporations are eager to find a long-term, safe investment with a solid return, Tremont, Naples, Scully, Fox, and Madden have the answer. Just Say Yes.
Norman Poltenson is publisher of The Central New York Business Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org