‘It’s won in years;’ Outlining the keys to St. Louis economic expansion

'It's won in years;' Outlining the keys to St. Louis economic expansion
Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 4:52 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - There are many signs that the pandemic is easing across St. Louis and the nation, but questions about the economic impact left in its wake remain- especially in the region.

Portions of St. Louis show signs of booming growth, including a new soccer stadium in Downtown West, and a new apartment skyscraper in the Central West End. Areas like Cortex continue to show signs of growth and promise in the city’s central corridor. But despite these signs of progress, St. Louis still lags many of its peer cities.

According to Brookings, a prominent research group, St. Louis ranks 44th out of 53 large metros for overall economic growth.

“Compared to other U.S. metros you are highly decentralized. You have a very weak core,” said Bruce Katz, a metro growth expert with New Localism Associates. “If the city is not strong the metro will not grow.”

Greater St. Louis Inc. recently tapped Katz to help create a new vision, known as the 2030 Jobs Plan. It’s 91 pages of detailed analysis about the St. Louis region, including it’s strengths. It begins with a clear statement: St. Louis must win this decade.

“Our metro hasn’t had a jobs plan for over a decade. If you are a business looking at this market, you can say ‘they aren’t even laying out for the world where they are going.’ You have to make this easy for decision makers,” said Jason Hall, CEO of Greater St. Louis.

Despite sluggish growth over the past decade, Katz was optimistic about the St. Louis region. He said he believes in 10 years, St. Louis could be a very different place. Katz says growing cities often have a common theme, and those regions are often considered inclusive cities.

The 2030 jobs report reveals a difficult truth about the region. On Page 4 it says the region needs “to confront the painful legacy and present day realities of systemic racism.”

On Page 17 it says, “If Black St. Louis residents started and owned businesses at the same rate as white St. Louisans the metro would have more than 8,000 additional businesses, and 66 thousand additional jobs.”

Katz does sees signs of progress, saying “I think there’s a commitment to growing black and Latino businesses and having more diverse hiring that’s as strong if not stronger than any other place I’ve seen in the United States.”

But Hall said he realizes things won’t change overnight, even with strong progress in the short term.

“Economic development is not won in days and weeks, it’s won in years,” he said. “People forget this region had gotten out of the recruitment business. We didn’t have a team fighting out there for jobs every day.”

He points to the recent announcement of 1,400 high paid positions at Accenture Federal Services as a recent win and said others are in the pipeline.

“We have a few, very close. A major bio tech out of San Francisco. A manufacturing firm looking at our riverfront,” he said, adding his group acts as a concierge to make it easy for businesses to navigate St. Louis.

Not only should St. Louis focus on inclusive growth, but Katz said St. Louis must also focus on rebuilding its core.

“Most successful metro areas over the last 25 years built up their downtowns and mid-towns because those are the places where companies and investors come together. That didn’t really happen in St. Louis. It’s a dispersed economy, a lot of assets but they aren’t adding up together. It’s like two plus two equals three” he said.

Katz says the region has many strong assets, and should focus on strengths including AgTech, BioTech, geospatial, and FinTech.

News 4 asked the mayor’s office to comment on the 2030 jobs plan.

A spokesperson said:

“The Mayor has seen the plan. She believes that we have been lagging because disinvestment in certain communities has been intentional, but like much of the investment in the Central Corridor. Mayor Jones believes the City should be a better negotiator when it comes to development incentives. The people closest to the problems should be closest to the solutions, so when we include the people of St. Louis at the negotiating table, we will begin to see more robust economic growth and open the doors for more people to not just find, but also create, quality jobs.”