If I told you that a county in North Carolina took economic development incentive funds and invested them in early learning, would you believe it? Well that is exactly what happened recently in Buncombe County.
Economic development incentives are used at the state and local levels to attract or retain business operations. They can take various forms that are authorized in the NC General Statutes, including tax exemptions, tax credits, property transfers, loans and more. Decisions about the use of economic development incentives are made on a case-by-case basis as a community or state creates a customized incentive package to attract or retain a business.
The Buncombe County budget has $5 million set aside for economic development incentives with about $3 million already committed. At the County Commissioners’ October meeting, they made several changes to the eligibility policy for businesses to receive incentives, including one to support early learning. For capital investment projects, which create jobs and invest in buildings and equipment, the county will now provide additional incentives to businesses that pay 50 percent or more of child care expenses for their employees. Specifically, “companies that pay at least 50 percent of the cost of an employee’s child care costs will be eligible for a bonus of $1,000 per employee.”
That’s not all. The County Commissioners invested $250,000 from the economic development incentive set-aside for preschool expansion. In addition, the County allocated $68,000 to provide a new NC Pre-K classroom at the Christine Avery Center serving 12 children and is supporting a Head Start classroom expansion at an elementary school.
At the same time, a separate initiative – the Asheville Buncombe Preschool Planning Collaborative – is working to ensure that each child age birth to five in Buncombe County has access to high-quality, affordable early care and education. The collaborative is a diverse group of community leaders, including the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, Mission Health, A-B Tech and Asheville City Council. Currently the group is focusing on three- and four-year-olds. The collaborative believes that preschool is currently the most fiscally viable, and is a logical “next step upstream” from existing kindergarten systems.
There is a growing movement of communities across the country investing or planning to invest local funds in early learning to ensure children get a strong foundation for lifelong health, education and well-being. Read more here about communities taking local action in the NCECF Local Funding for Early Learning: A Community Toolkit. We’ve documented nearly 40 communities making local investments in young children.