Florida Prosperity Initiative: Fighting childhood poverty is good business

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Higher employee engagement, lower turnover.

Fighting childhood poverty isn’t just a good cause, it’s good business.

Business leaders participating in a Wednesday webinar hosted by the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Florida Prosperity Initiative, corporations that commit to charitable causes can expect gains in employee morale and retention and, in turn, a better bottom line.

Debbie LaPinska, the senior vice president of human relations at PGT Innovations, said the company has seen staff turnover drop by nearly 10% since PGT upped its corporate responsibility efforts.

In 2019, the manufacturing company launched the Sunshine Education Academy, which offers quality affordable child care to PGT employees.

It’s expensive — LaPinska ballparked it at $1 million a year — but the benefits far outweigh the costs.

4Generations Institute founder Jack Levine said child care is one of the biggest contributors to childhood poverty.

Not only is it costly for parents, but children are often placed in child care during a pivotal time in their development. If their brains aren’t stimulated, they could be far behind their peers by the time they enter kindergarten.

It’s a common problem in Florida, considering the law only requires one child care worker for every 15 children. Child care jobs are often low wage, too, leading to overworked, often lower-skilled caregivers.

Florida Prosperity Initiative data shows only about half of Florida children enter kindergarten ready to learn. By third grade, less than three-fifths are able to read at grade level.

Levine underscored the percentages with some raw numbers. Every day, enough Florida children are born to fill 30 classrooms.

Moore Agency CEO Karen Moore description of how corporate responsibility boosted business echoed LaPinska’s, but she also stressed that a business’ charitable efforts are longer lasting when employees take the lead.

The Moore Agency polled its employees, asking them directly what causes were most important to them personally. Children’s issues, including food security and child care were an overwhelming No. 1.

Her company provides about $500,000 a year in in-kind or direct support to children’s causes, but the returns — employee engagement, retention and morale — are worth it.

“If you build it, they will stay,” she said.

Moore also encouraged businesses to publicly share what they’re doing across social media, not necessarily to show off, but because it inspires other businesses to do the same.

The discussion, hosted by Florida Prosperity Initiative director Michael Williams, was the second in a five-part series of webinars addressing how business can help reduce childhood poverty in Florida.

The next discussion, focusing on food and health, is scheduled for Aug. 7 at 10 a.m. Details and registration information are available on the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s website.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


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