Businesses can no longer afford to ignore the problems of America's children, says the chief executive of Honeywell Inc., who came to Clearwater on Friday to issue a wake-up call. "You can't solve problems if you don't admit them," said James J. Renier, who has taken on the role of a Paul Revere, warning the corporate world about the costs of childhood poverty, teen-age pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse and high dropout rates.
"Forty percent of children are at risk of not becoming ultimately self-sufficient," he said. "If you're not educated, you can't survive."
Renier said businesses need to be concerned about the quality of their future work force, about the skyrocketing cost of medical care and about their own productivity.
"How can we as a corporation compete if these trends continue?" he asked.
Renier spoke to business and education leaders at breakfast and lunch meetings and visited the on-site school Honeywell operates for employees' children in partnership with the Pinellas County school system.
Honeywell's Clearwater plant makes guidance and navigation systems and other equipment for military aircraft and for use in
Renier said Honeywell, long a contributor to higher education, began supporting programs for children as executives realized that social and educational problems have their roots early in life.
"You really have to start at conception," he said.
The father of eight children, ages 4 to 37, Renier said he became active in children's issues five years ago.
"I got involved because if you don't get involved, no one listens to you," he said. Now he testifies before congressional committees and is an advocate for children with several business groups.
Renier and Honeywell have followed up the words with actions, focusing on the neighborhood surrounding the company's Minneapolis headquarters. One company-sponsored program helps poor pregnant women obtain health care and social services. Another is a school for teen-age mothers and their children, located on Honeywell property.
Ranier said one of the most valuable contributions business leaders can make is to introduce some common sense into the process of solving social problems. He said he fought state building codes that prevented most Minnesota churches from using their facilities for child care.
"Resources are not really the big issue," he said. "There are a ton of resources in a community if you mobilize them."