Maine’s law enforcement leaders recently issued a “Fight Crime: Invest In Kids” report linking future crime reduction to the high-quality early education and care. Business leaders, including me, also have grown to understand that high-quality early education is key to the workforce development and economic successes that we are all seeking.

About four years ago, I was asked to participate in the Governor’s Business Roundtable on Early Childhood. Until that time, I had not given much thought to early education outside of my personal experiences as a husband and father of two wonderful daughters. I soon learned how important early education is, not only to my business, but also to the current and future economies of Maine. This has led me to serve as co-chairman of the Maine Early Learning Investment Group, a private-sector group dedicated to advancing a business-like approach to funding and getting results on early childhood investments. Our commitment is based on the growing evidence presented in human early brain development and the return on investments proven by high-quality models.

The first five years of life are the most critical in shaping a child’s lifelong learning and skill-building capacity. Just like building a house, it starts with a solid foundation. Ensuring that our youngest children receive the supports and developmental experiences they need to succeed in school is among the most effective strategies for long-term economic success. Research on brain development and educational achievement shows that early development of language, social, emotional and cognitive skills is crucial for preparing children to do well in school and life. Children who receive high-quality early care and education are more likely to arrive at kindergarten prepared for success. They are more likely to succeed in grades K-12, graduate on time, attend college, become employed, earn higher wages and, as our sheriffs and police chiefs tell us, avoid criminal behavior — all consequences that have major cost implications for our local, state and federal governments and taxpayers.

From a cost-benefit perspective, high-quality early childhood education is one of the smartest investments we can make. Increasing high-quality early childhood education does not constitute increased sustained government spending. Rather, it represents a reallocation of public investments to higher return, capacity-building, preventive services, and away from lower-return remediation and late-stage intervention.

The real fiscal internal rate of return of investments in high-quality early childhood education in Maine is 7.5 percent, according to a new report, “Path to a Better Future: The Fiscal Payoff Investment in Early Childhood Development in Maine,” by Philip Trostel, University of Maine economics professor. The much more costly course of action would be to continue the status quo: inadequate early childhood investments necessitating expensive and often unsuccessful remedial efforts later.

Early knowledge and skill accumulation have a self-productive aspect, analogous to the compound interest phenomenon in financial investments, but even more pronounced. “Early learning begets later learning and early success breeds later success,” said Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman. This is precisely why upstream early childhood investments have such a high payoff, and why downstream remediation efforts are much more expensive and much less effective.

Earlier this year, the business organization America’s Edge released a report in Maine showing that fully investing in early care and education would generate millions of dollars in the sales of goods and services for Maine businesses and create thousands of jobs. The report projects that for every $1 invested in early care and education in Maine, an additional 78 cents is generated, for a total of $1.78 in new spending. As an employment sector, early care and education outperforms transportation, construction and farming/forestry/fishing/hunting.

Clearly, mounting evidence is showing that investments in early education also should be considered an economic development strategy.

These are impressive and compelling economic arguments that the Maine Early Learning Investment Group will bring to the attention of other business leaders and public policymakers. I am pleased that Maine legislators and the governor will consider a universal pre-K proposal in the next legislative session, and I am heartened that Congress is considering a groundbreaking state-federal partnership that will provide federal funds for states to create, strengthen and expand high-quality early learning programs.

When combined with the primary benefit of healthier and more productive, prosperous and fulfilling lives for Maine children, high-quality early education and care is a winning formula that cannot be ignored.

Jim Clair is CEO of Goold Health Systems, an Emdeon company, and co-chairman of Maine Early Learning Investment Group.

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