Two recent developments in metropolitan Washington's private sector stand as bona fide examples of corporate responsibility that can be replicated throughout the area.
To be sure, there is a profit motive underlying the decisions that led to those developments. Nonetheless, the potential benefits for taxpayers and consumers far outweigh the significance of profit margins in the long run. In any event, both businesses and consumers of goods and services stand to gain.
Although they aren't formally connected, the actions taken recently by a group of business leaders in Prince George's County and the owners of a group of fast-food franchises, form a pattern of enlightened corporate interaction with the community. In different ways, but with similar goals, each organization has chosen to give the community something besides hard-sell and lip service.
Last week, the Prince George's County Advisory Council for Business and Industry, an organization of 70 leading business and government officials, announced its sponsorship of an incentive program to help the school system recruit bright new teachers. And last month, Lindsay Enterprises of Lanham, operator of Shakey's Pizza Restaurants in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, inaugurated an educational achievement incentive program for students in Prince George's. Lindsay plans to expand the program to Montgomery County and the District.
Cynics may view the actions of those organizations as public-relations ploys, designed to win customers, boost profits and bolster good will.
There is some of that. Indeed, a Prince George's County businessman conceded that his group's motives aren't purely altruistic. But there can be no denying that private-sector efforts to improve the quality of life in the communities in which they do business is a legitimate and laudable endeavor.
Take the teacher incentive project, for example. For years, state and local officials based their business attraction programs on their ability to deliver tax incentives, skilled labor forces, strong consumer markets, access to other markets and availability of critical natural resources. Nowadays, however, companies are placing greater emphasis on the so-called quality of life, as they contemplate relocating to other areas.
Business leaders in Prince George's County obviously are convinced that the quality of life -- including education -- must improve if the county expects to build its economic base by attracting high-quality firms from other areas. An abundance of cheap land and a good road system by themselves won't do it. A better school system, more new companies and an influx of more affluent families, confident that they will have access to a good school system, add up to a stronger economy and bigger profits, in the opinion of business leaders in Prince George's County.
Hence, the business advisory council is sponsoring a project in which promising new teachers will be given discounts on the purchase of goods and services, lower consumer loan rates, and financial assistance in renting apartments. In addition, members of the advisory council plan to accompany school officials on teacher recruiting trips.
The same organization, earlier this year, launched a television promotional campaign designed to call attention to significant improvements in the school system.
In the meantime, Lindsay Enterprises, owner of Shakey's franchises in Suitland and Bethesda, has instituted a student-incentive program in private and Catholic schools in Prince George's County. Each month, Lindsay awards certificates to students at participating schools for outstanding academic achievement, improvement in physical education and music appreciation classes and attendance. Earning a certificate entitles a student to a free pizza at designated Shakey's restaurants.
Phillip J. Smith, coordinator of Shakey's student-incentive program readily admits that the program "creates good will" for Shakey's, but he adds: "What we want to do is reinforce the teachers' and the schools' programs." At the same time, said Smith, "We don't want just the academically talented student to win all the time. We want all students to take an interest in improving."
The student incentive program is an example "of what the business community can do to get children to attend school and to achieve," says Kathy Snyder, special assistant to Prince George's County Schools Superintendent John A. Murphy. The student achievement program and the "truly unique" teacher incentive project are but two examples of efforts by the business community to improve economic development as well as the quality of life in the county, Snyder noted.
They are, at the same time, excellent examples of corporate responsibility that can serve as models in other communities, such as those underserved D.C. neighborhoods where the cycle of economic despair and poor self-esteem continues.