Greater St. Louis, Inc.’s GeoFutures Initiative: Working to Drive Inclusive Growth
By Jason Hall, Feb. 4, 2021.
Recently, five of our region’s civic and economic development organizations came together to form a new entity, Greater St. Louis, Inc., dedicated to economic growth and prosperity throughout the bi-state metropolis. This merger was undertaken because, as a major American city, we share the challenges that other communities face and wanted to serve as a model for other cities around the country by addressing them through a new sense of collaboration that employs innovative thinking.
Through a community-engaged effort stewarded by Bruce Katz, founder of New Localism Associates, we are shaping a 10-year strategy to foster inclusive growth. We are focused on integrating principles of diversity, equity and inclusion into every element of our growth agenda. Together, we can create broader economic prosperity for the benefit of all.
A perfect example of this focus on inclusive growth is our effort to strengthen St. Louis as the global hub of geospatial, or location-based, technologies. This industry sector is rapidly expanding globally and changing the way we all make decisions. It is the backbone technology for every day decisions like mapping on a personal mobile device to new breakthroughs in autonomous driving and precision agriculture.
According to a baseline study conducted in 2019, St. Louis’ geospatial industry supports 27,000 direct and indirect jobs, includes over 350 companies and organizations, and produces a nearly $5 billion economic impact. The region’s universities conduct nearly $39 million annually in research involving geospatial-related fields and major St. Louis-based companies, including Bayer Crop Science, Enterprise Holdings, Boeing, and others, are already making major investments in geospatial technologies.
To bolster our rapidly growing geospatial sector and develop a strategic plan for the future, leaders from the region’s public, business, civic, and academic sectors came together behind a new initiative called GeoFutures, now an initiative of Greater St. Louis, Inc.
From the outset, the GeoFutures initiative, through a Strategic Roadmap it released in June 2020, committed not only to growth, but to inclusive, equitable growth, because, while the St. Louis region has seen significant expansion across several of its industry sectors in recent years, the benefits of that haven’t been shared by all, specifically the region’s Black residents.
Building on the recommendations of the landmark Ferguson Commission Report, the GeoFutures Strategic Roadmap elevates and intentionally centers racial equity with the goal of using geospatial technology and the growth of the geospatial sector to promote equity and inclusion.
“We have a plan to place the trajectory of an entire industry sector, from the beginning, on a path that honors, includes, and advances the community in which the industry is taking root; a plan to begin addressing the long-standing exclusion of Black neighborhoods from growth and prosperity in St. Louis,” said Dara Eskridge, Executive Director, Invest STL—an initiative committed to prioritizing equitable, resident-driven development of our region’s neighborhoods —and member of the GeoFutures Advisory Committee. “It’s a chance to show our region and the rest of the country the right way to mobilize and support the existing community members in directing and capitalizing on a potentially multigenerational economic opportunity.”
To that end, the GeoFutures Strategic Roadmap intentionally lays out strategic initiatives and program activities targeted to address specific opportunities and gaps that need to be advanced in partnership with the broader St. Louis community. These include establishing a Black professional tech entrepreneurship program that cultivates relationships with Black professional IT associations and engineering professionals and leverages the presence of existing entrepreneurial development activities and supporting community-driven development efforts in the neighborhoods north of Downtown in which the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is building its new, $1.7 billion west headquarters. This will be done in alignment with the City’s Equitable Economic Development Framework with the goal of promoting broader community wealth-generation activities to grow incomes and assets of neighborhood residents by enhancing access to capital, promoting entrepreneurship, and creating new paths for home ownership.
Additionally, educational opportunities at the grade, middle, high school, and college levels are already being developed and implemented. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is developing geospatial curriculum for public schools; a new geospatial-focused charter school and workforce development center are opening just north of the NGA campus; and NGA and the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation are working with area colleges and universities—including Harris-Stowe State University, St. Louis’ only HBCU —to develop geospatial programming.
While not the full list of efforts and initiatives taking place, all of these developments demonstrate the intentional activity taking place to ensure growth is inclusive and empowering.
From where we sit, for St. Louis to truly become a “New Urban Champion” we have to push through the old systems and tear down the barriers that were constructed to keep all our residents from being part of the solution and enjoying the benefits of growth and success.
The mindset that Greater St. Louis, Inc. and our GeoFutures Initiative employ is that these systems need to be rebuilt by and for the people and communities where they exist so that growth can be inclusive, and we can all move forward together.