On my way into the office earlier this week I passed two co-workers who had each just sent their first child to school on the bus for the first time. The pride they felt was as evident as their anxiety. What isn’t always so obvious in those moments is the fact that those children are carrying more than just new backpacks. Often they represent the aspirations of their families, their friends and our community.

As a new school year begins, parents place their confidence for their children’s future in educational institutions. Each day their children will embark on a journey to learn in our local schools. Every day is an opportunity to spark creativity, imagination, a sense of responsibility and hopefully the pathway to a career. Our K-12 schools are often where our youth first begin to think about where they want their future to take them.

It’s here that they seek the guidance and support necessary to make choices that will be a part of a lifelong path. In order to make informed decisions, it’s essential that our educators be better connected to the trends and forecasts for our economic future. Where will the careers be? What skills will they need to succeed in those positions? Connecting our educators, students and parents with business leaders early on is almost like having a crystal ball.

As a product of the post-World War II era, I recall an educational system that was challenged to put a “man on the moon.” The challenge by our new, young president ignited many with passion to do what might be considered impossible.

The result? A concentrated effort in math, science and ingenuity that produced a new generation of educated and talented people — and on July 20, 1969, the world watched Neil Armstrong take “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The space program became synonymous with American knowledge and skills. If we could put a man on the moon we could do anything!

After 35 years as a professional economic development practitioner, I am convinced that education is fundamental to the economic health and well-being of our communities. Well-grounded and well-prepared students will excel in higher education, the workplace and the world. They will be confident in their knowledge and be the leaders we need to move forward. Economic activity results in more jobs, better jobs, quality businesses and the support mechanisms and networks they need to thrive.

Once again we are seeking a challenge that will stir American passion. Maybe it’s a cure for cancer, resolving our energy problems or bringing valued-added jobs back to our towns and cities. No matter the impetus, education is a critical factor to facilitate that success.

There needs to be a conversation about the role of education in our local economies. Many schools in this region “export” our students to other parts of New England for higher education or quality careers. A first step in reversing this trend is to understand what economic opportunities exist within our region. Then we need to engage educational establishments in the delivery of “job ready” knowledge and skills. Teachers should understand the pressures and systems of business. Students need to know that there are opportunities in our region and they need to be shown the path to success in their own backyard.

Mobilize Eastern Maine, a collaborative network of economic development organizations including the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board, the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, Eastern Maine Development Corp. and others, is talking with stakeholders to ensure that the investment we are making in our educational system will result in economic growth. These stakeholders include business and community leaders, school superintendents, principals, teachers, policymakers, students and parents. The effort is more than planning. It’s about action.

The Summit to Connect Education and Business in Eastern Maine is a result of these conversations. It’s a step in further developing a network that helps teachers, students and parents become more aware of what the jobs will be in the future, and the education and skills required to be hired. Scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 1, presenters at the summit include Maine’s Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen, Deputy Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette, Laurie LaChance from the Maine Development Foundation, the presidents of the University of Maine, Eastern Maine Community College and Husson University, and several business leaders.

A fundamental key to success and growth lies in the relationships and networks we nurture. What better place to start than in the relationships between those who educate our youth and the business community where they will find their future?

Michael W. Aube is president of Eastern Maine Development Corp. in Bangor. He is a past commissioner of Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development and former state director of Maine USDA Rural Development.

The summit will be held at Hollywood Slots banquet facility from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. There is a $25perperson registration fee. Continental breakfast is included and the summit is eligible for 0.5 CEUs for teachers. Teachers, students, parents and businesspeople are encouraged to attend. Contact Vicki Rusbult at vrusbult@emdc.org or visit http://www.emdc.org/e3summit for more information or to register.