Georgia is known far and wide as being a fantastic place to do business and an extraordinary place to live. As a 30+ year Peach who has had the privilege of meeting and working with many of the top midmarket CEOs in this state, I can attest to that. Georgia has it going on.
That said, this last year Georgia dropped from 2nd to 7th place in CNBC’s “Top States for Business” list. One of the reasons for the drop was education, and that’s what we talk about in this week’s article.
I’m thrilled to welcome this week’s guest, James Pitts, President of Kellogg Partners Commercial Real Estate. Pitts is not only at the top of his field in commercial real estate, but he is working hard to improve education in the state, as well.
The CNBC report highlights the fact that being a great place to do business is not just about tax laws or great real estate – it’s about community. Business is made up of people and families, and quality of life matters. Keeping a strong focus on education and preparing our next generation is a key part of a holistically sound business environment.
Give People a Reason to Learn
Pitts is on the board of the Kennesaw State Entrepreneurship Center. KSU offers the first entrepreneurship major in the state, as well as maintaining an affiliation with a non-profit organization that trains K-12 educators to bring entrepreneurship into their classroom curriculum. Says Pitts, “Georgia could probably stand to improve our educational system; so how do we do that? I think it’s by teaching teachers to be innovators in the classroom, and giving students a reason, a why, to learn, and to be excited about learning.”
Pitts comes from a long line of educators. His grandfather was a K-12 principal for 60 years. His Dad taught for 35 years, and his mother taught for 25 years. His wife taught at a Montessori school. It’s in his DNA. What he’s learned is that teaching can be a moving target. He says, “Every time there’s a new president, or a new administration, the goal posts get changed. And teachers get frustrated with that.”
As frustrating as it is for teachers, the moving goal posts are difficult and confusing for students as well. The great thing about teaching entrepreneurship is that the student learns to set their own goals posts, and the education is about filling the tool box to reach those goals. Pitts explains, “You’re teaching kids to be creative problem solvers and innovators.” Great for the kids, and good for business as well.
Teach Kids to be Problem Solvers
One of the major complaints about the workforce today is that new hires lack soft skills, including the skills to think creatively and problem solve. Living inside an education system focused on specific, ever changing goals posts can cripple the ability to be proactive. The entrepreneurship program envisioned by the team at KSU would foster skills needed to produce a generation of creators.
In the program, students actually start businesses. A student at Brookwood High School has earned over $200,000 in his landscaping business, and is, while still in school, dealing with hiring new employees and purchasing new equipment so he can support the expansion his business is experiencing. Pitts says, “I’m thinking, wow, this kid is 16, and he’s got HR issues. At 16, I was just trying to get a job at a hamburger joint.”
Elementary School students are also taught entrepreneurship skills. Explains Pitts, “These kids walk up and they tell you in 30 seconds, this is who I am, this is my business. Here’s why you should buy my business or services, and they lean in, and talk with you. I don’t see that with some adults, and you have these kids with these great soft skills that they’re learning from entrepreneurship, and it’s amazing.”
Kids learn not only how to express their goals, but how to pivot. Pitts says, “There’s global forces, there’s technology, there’s automation coming. And as the environment changes, I think that is going to change the way people work as well.”
Put Entrepreneurship in the Water We Drink
There is currently a conversation happening with Cobb County here in Georgia about making entrepreneurship curriculum available to all 68 of the elementary schools in Cobb County. This would be, according to Pitts, about 80,000 to 100,000 kids.
It’s great for the kids, without a doubt. It’s also good for the state. Can you imagine if we had 80,000 new entrepreneurs creating jobs and bringing business to Georgia?
Says Pitts, “Just think about that. If young people become social entrepreneurs, business entrepreneurs – they create jobs, they become intrapreneurs. What does that look like in Atlanta; if we can invest in our educational system and put entrepreneurship into the water that our kids drink?”
Teaching children early how to envision their dreams, and giving them the skills to fulfill on those dreams, is powerful. Not just for the kids, or even for Georgia, but for our future workforce that will be expected to make jobs not just take them.