By Ellen Krohne and Joe Reagan
Without question, the latter part of 2014 proved to be a challenging time for the St. Louis region as events in and related to Ferguson unfolded. In the wake of the turmoil, however, regional leaders are more attuned to the problems that must be addressed, and to the need for a collaborative approach. One only has to look to some of the region’s recent successes to understand just how much can be accomplished when passionate people work together toward a common goal, whether we’re joining forces to tackle challenges or to embrace new opportunities.
While examples abound across the metro area, the spirit of cooperation that exists both within Southwestern Illinois, and between economic development and civic leaders in the Metro East and their counterparts in St. Louis, is worthy of note.
One of the most visible examples is the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. While the decade-long effort to create a new Mississippi River crossing had some bumps along the way, leaders from Missouri and Illinois ultimately found middle ground, paving the way for the magnificent new bridge that today facilitates easier traffic flow between the two states and will be a catalyst for future growth.
Less visible but equally important is the Metro East Levee improvement initiative. The St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance, a regional coalition spearheaded by the Leadership Council, will soon celebrate the completion of $100 million in projects to improve the Metro East levee system. Thanks to early leadership and decisive action by Senator Bill Haine and the Illinois congressional delegation, along with the three Southwestern Illinois County Board Chairmen, the region has the funding required to get the job done so the levees can be reaccredited by FEMA. That helps to ensure the levee system continues to safeguard the homes and businesses of 156,000 residents and 55,000 workers, while also ensuring they won’t be hit with skyrocketing flood insurance costs.
Job creation is another critical issue behind which we can unite; so it should be no surprise that protecting and growing the 13,000 jobs at Scott Air Force Base remains a regional effort. The Task Force created to lead that effort is being guided by representatives of St. Clair and Madison counties and the Leadership Council, and it has bi-state financial support. The Leadership Council’s recent investment campaign, which raised funds to support the Task Force’s ongoing work, received overwhelming support, with businesses, organizations and communities on both sides of the river contributing $1.5 million.
The forming St. Louis Regional Freight District also is focused on job creation, as it aims to capture some of the jobs that will be generated as freight shipments mushroom by an estimated 60 percent across the United States by 2040. Launched by East West Gateway Council of Governments, the St. Louis Regional Chamber, the Leadership Council and Bi-State Development Agency, the new Freight District will be tasked with promoting the region as a premier multimodal freight center in the Midwest. Even as work continues to firm up the District, the Leadership Council and Regional Chamber have begun work to create a new brand identity for the region as St. Louis GatewayTM. At the heart of the effort is the new website, www.stlgateway.com, that highlights the bi-state St. Louis region’s strategic location and seamlessly integrated transportation infrastructure, underscoring how it is ideally suited for multimodal logistics and supply chain solutions. It also touts the region’s bi-state composition as a strength, providing twice the leverage on major infrastructure projects.
Other collaborations also are in the works to help achieve greater educational attainment and to foster entrepreneurship and innovation, both of which will lead to more jobs.
Over the longer term, continued job growth across the region will be dependent on our ability to learn from Ferguson, and to apply those lessons. Some may see the situation in Ferguson as a St. Louis issue, but the reality is that it impacts our region at large, because we are perceived as one. That’s why the Leadership Council is working with regional leaders on rebuilding efforts and to determine the best ways to move forward, working together on ways to regain positive mindshare for St. Louis on the regional, national and even international stage.
Yes, it will take some time; but given our shared passion to make the St. Louis region a better place to live, work and invest, we have every confidence that if we continue to work together, we will prevail.
Ellen Krohne is executive director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois. Joe Reagan is president and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber.