CEO Blog: Getting America Back to Work Begins In Our Schools

President Obama's State of the Union Speech
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President Obama's State of the Union Speech

In his State of the Union addresslast night President Obama reminded the nation that education equals employment.

In the First Lady’s box sat a single mother from North Carolina whose studies at a community college earned her a high-tech position after she had lost a job as a mechanic.

The President wants states to require students to stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18. Given the global economic challenges we confront it is essential we provide every American with the opportunity for a quality education. But that is not possible if our educational infrastructure is in disrepair.

Last September the President proposed spending $30 billion dollars as part of his American Jobs Act to modernize and upgrade schools and community colleges. The President should not retreat from this important proposal. Not only would it be a valuable investment in our children, but it also would quickly create more high-paying jobs here in the United States.

As president of JE Dunn Construction, a construction company that is a national top 10 builder of educational facilities, I have seen first-hand the need for major renovation in outdated school facilities.

We are already working on updating many educational facilities around the country, and there are many more badly in need of repair and renovation to improve the learning environment for our children.

Inner-city schools averaging 60-70 years in age too often have poor heating and inadequate lighting. A child cannot learn well if he is shivering in his classroom while squinting to read his textbook. Other schools have no air conditioning even though the school year in some districts starts during the heat of the summer or extends through the summer. Buildings built for baby boomers are energy inefficient, which causes higher operating and maintenance costs over time. Schools also need state-of-the-art technology to teach students for the 21st century high-tech world.

Sustainable building practices need to be utilized in renovations, additions and new construction. Parents and students are becoming educated on the energy, environmental, and cost benefits at the local and global levels. The saving in energy provides a payback for the improvements and more. We are seeing many educational facilities convert to green building practices systems. That’s responsible spending that pays off in the long run because of the decrease in energy costs.

Though I am a fiscal conservative who wants a balanced federal budget, I recognize the need for spending on essential projects now so I encourage Congress to support President Obama's proposed investment in education. The bill would provide a one-time stimulus for our national education infrastructure at a time when it is desperately needed.

"Though I am a fiscal conservative who wants a balanced federal budget, I recognize the need for spending on essential projects now so I encourage Congress to support President Obama's proposed investment in education." -Pres., CEO JE Dunn Construction Group, Terry Dunn

A $30 billion education capital improvements bill could create an economic multiplier impact of three times, resulting in $90 billion back into the economy. It would also create approximately $10 billion in immediate construction payrolls. That’s critical for an industry that is the most depressed sector of the economy right now. Typically every dollar invested in a construction contract results in 30-35 cents reapplied directly into labor. And every dollar spent in take- home money has a positive impact on the economy.

At JE Dunn Construction, we have witnessed the same trend that many construction companies have seen over the past few years – a drop off in hiring due to an industry that needs additional capital to expand. This stimulus would create opportunity for job creation in an industry that has seen decline, while also serving the needs of school facilities in dire need of updating.

The president wants an economy that is fair for all, where opportunity and unlimited potential is available to any student, no matter the income bracket of his parents. I want that too. Upgrading our country’s educational infrastructure is a critical step to achieving that goal for our children, while quickly putting many of their parents back to work.

Terry Dunn is President & CEO of JE DUNN Construction Group, one of the nation’s leading building companies, where he has worked for 37 years. Among his many business and civic leadership positions Terry has served as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts of America and is Vice Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City. He is Chairman and Trustee of the Kansas University of Medicine and Biosciences, and a board member of the University of Missouri Kansas City Bloch School and the Midwest Research Institute.