The U.S. Department of Labor says that illiteracy costs business and industry in Georgia more than $2 billion annually.

A new program at Georgia College is aimed at working with educators to fix that.

We all read for different reasons -- whether it's for an assignment or for fun, literacy is important, and developing literacy skills begins at an early age.

That's why Governor Nathan Deal and his wife Sandra Deal are making a statewide effort to increase the reading proficiency of students by the third grade, and they're starting by setting up shop in Milledgeville on Georgia College's campus with the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy.

Linda Bradley is the Interim Director for the Center.

"How do we support the range of adults that come in contact with children from birth through third grade?" said Bradley.

The center will focus on professional development through think tank-type activities and implementation supports like developing teacher preparation programs, developing and implementing a Georgia model for community engagement and action, and conducting research and evaluation activities to identify and promote effective practices for increasing early language and literacy and reading on grade level by the end of third grade.

That's something Director for the Early Learning Center in Baldwin County, Lori Smith, is looking forward to.

"I think there's a misconception out there that teachers have a lot of time to share good ideas with each other, but unfortunately, that's not always the case, so a teacher can have a really good idea and could be doing something really great, but nobody else really knows about it. So I hope that this center will allow some of these good ideas to be pushed out around the community," Smith said.

Smith says early literacy has been a problem in Georgia for some time.

"Early literacy has been a weakness. We've looked over and over again at our third grade scores throughout the state, and our third graders aren't hitting the mark, and why are they not hitting the mark? We've asked over and over again. I think the governor has looked at why we're not addressing some of those early literacy skills. By the time some of these children get to second and third grade, they're so far behind, it's nearly impossible to catch them up by the time we get to those third grade tests," said Smith.

But Bradley says they hope over time, the efforts made by the center will change all that in Georgia.

The Georgia Center for Early Language and Literacy is working on hiring people.

Bradley says by early 2018, they should be fully-staffed and ready to go.