The Star's recent front page article on Tucson's dubious distinction as the sixth-poorest large city in America elicited nearly 200 online comments. Unfortunately, most missed the mark. As Mike Varney, the Tucson Metro Chamber President and CEO alluded to - it's education folks!

Why would anyone build a new plant in a location without access to an educated workforce? Businesses are desperate for employees who can read, write, think critically, and have good people skills. These are the foundational tools essential to success. Most importantly, children who do not develop these skills before the fourth grade are likely to be behind for the rest of their lives.

The key to building these skills is quality early childhood education. As much as some people would like to politicize this fundamental (and verifiable) truth, supporting early childhood education is a common-sense decision, not a political, ideological or religious one.

If your business needs literate employees with strong decision-making skills who get along with people - you should welcome any effort to strengthen and improve early childhood education.

Fortunately, First Things First, the grass-roots Arizona citizens' initiative to build a comprehensive system to support the health, development and quality education of all Arizona children birth to 5, is doing that in Pima County.

In the few years since its inception, First Things First has invested more than $53.7 million in Pima County's future workforce - its children.

First Things First financing supports professional development of early-childhood educators and improved access to health and developmental services. All this at no cost to local budgets.

Volunteer First Things First Regional Councils across the state are working hard to build effective and sustainable systems that lay the foundation for success that is important for all children, but also critical to the long-term economic success of our communities.

The author is a retired Air Force colonel and former vice president of the Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona. A nonprofit consultant, he is currently chair of the First Things First North Pima Regional Council.