Saturday, December 12, 2009

Welcome To St. Louis in 2020

Welcome to the Year 2020. You might not recognize St. Louis much these days, but the region is thriving. Jobs and industries continue to pop up. 10 years ago many of our local leaders rallied together and focused on four primary initiatives. Our leaders and our region focused mainly on these initiatives. Here's how we did it:
1. Focused on Education: Back in 1999, only 24.5% of area high school students graduated from college, compared with 34.7% in Kansas City and 31.4% in Chicago. Our high school graduation rate was also horrendous. Our leaders realized that the region that produced the most educated, innovative workforce would gain the companies and jobs in the future. We were behind in a big way. Our corporate leaders decided to adopt students (just like the Big Brother program). The students received internships and help to attend college. Employees became mentors. They also gained experience and a belief they could actually make a difference. It worked.
2. Our City and County finally became one. When it came to being on the same page and building your region for the future, separate City and County governments just didn't work. Now, we're one and on the same page. Now, governments and municipalities don't work against each other. We all move as one toward a common goal: building our region. Even St. Charles County has agreed to help, paying its fair share for things like the Zoo.
3. Focused on our core: Downtown. The expansion Westward and the suburban sprawl might have been great for the many citizens looking for a change, but it damaged our city's core, downtown. Our leaders realized we couldn't build a serious future without a strong core. Back in 2009, our downtown office vacancy rate was 21.5% (compared to Chicago's 15.5% and Kansas City's 16.7%). Our leaders changed that. The city/county merger and incentives helped bring businesses back to the downtown area. A vibrant downtown area helped bring larger corporations into the region.
4. Global Expertise. Our leaders realized that only 5% of the world's population is from the U.S. Companies that can export open themselves up to huge markets. St. Louis decided to be the leaders in exporting. We set up several different incubators (just to help growing businesses learn the exporting trades). Experts soon moved here to lend a hand and within 5 years St. Louis became the mecca of international trade. If you had any business, from 400 employees to one, you wanted to be in St. Louis to help jump-start your international venture.
Turning this city around wasn't as hard as you'd think. After all, we already had a strong foundation in industries like health care and education. All we needed was a commitment and some hard work.
--Ron Ameln, SBM


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Say Goodbye To The Economic Decade From Hell

There is one more good reason to pop the champagne and ring in the New Year--saying goodbye to the Economic Decade From Hell.
This will be a decade to erase from memory. 9-11 and two recessions later, we're finally saying goodbye and hopefully good riddance.
Here are some low lights from the past decade:
-Unemployment in the St. Louis area went from 3% in 1999 to 9.8% today.
-Missouri building permits decreased 82% from peak to trough during the decade.
-St. Louis population growth continued to lag. Between 1990-2008, St. Louis resident population grew 9%, while Kansas City grew 22% and Chicago grew 17% (U.S. population grew 22%).
-Housing prices in St. Louis area have fallen 14% since 2007.
-St. Louis downtown office vacancy rate is now 21.5%, compared to Chicago's 15.5% and Kansas City's 16.7%.
Needless to say, I'll be hoisting my glass and hoping for a better decade ahead.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Your Company Is What You Do, Not Who You Are

An entrepreneur friend of mine surprisingly took his life last week, leaving behind a wife and children. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.

While I'm not sure of the exact reasons for his actions, I do know his business and industry were suffering through a major decline. He went from having a soaring business with many employees to just a few. I'm sure this business downfall weighed heavily on him the past few years.

As and entrepreneur, it's easy to forget that our companies and our work "are what we do, they are not who we are."

That's certainly easy to sit back and say. We work long hours and are driven by bottom line results. Our employees become like children. We end up worrying about their progress and futures just like our own kids.

Even though it's tough, we've got to make this distinction. Even during troubling times like the past few years, our lives go on despite what happens with our companies. From my friend, I'm going to remember this lesson.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Carrying A Man Purse And Running A Business

I met an entrepreneur friend of mine recently for lunch and he showed up wearing a Man Purse. Yes, that's right. He showed up with a purse, carrying such items as tissues, camera, keys, cell phone.
I gave him the obligatory 30 seconds of ribbing and then let him explain himself. "It's not a man purse," he said. "It's a European Shoulder Bag."
Oh, excuse me...Whatever.
Later, I starting thinking more about his man purse...ahem, European Shoulder Bag. You know, the same characteristics that make him wear his bag in public are the same characteristics that make him a great entrepreneur.
He's innovative, doesn't care what others think and isn't afraid to take a chance. He never waits to see how others feel about his decisions. He makes decisions based on what is best for his company and future (no one else), and he doesn't follow everyone's path--he creates his own.
Do you showcase these characteristics in your business?
Maybe I shouldn't have made fun of him after all.
--Ron Ameln, SBM