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