In 2020, amidst an unprecedented year of national crisis and racial reckoning, business and civic leaders in the St. Louis metro began the hard work of devising a coordinated approach to increasing inclusive economic growth in the region. After decades of economic underperformance, population stagnation and racial division, the city and metropolis is choosing to chart a different course, one that combines growth in quality jobs and heightened global relevance with a steadfast and broad-based commitment to inclusive growth and racial equity.
The resulting STL 2030 Jobs Plan: Driving A Decade of Inclusive Growth, slated for release in late winter 2021, maps out a series of economy-shaping actions to grow quality jobs and eliminate racial disparities in household income, health outcomes and wealth building across the St. Louis metro. Greater STL Inc., a new business and civic leadership organization created from the merger of five existing groups, will lead plan implementation.
Why was a plan needed?
The St. Louis metro was slow to emerge from the Great Recession. Between 2008 and 2018, metro GDP grew by only 5.2%, lagging older industrial economies like Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, Heartland growth centers like Denver, Minneapolis and Nashville, and the nation as a whole, which saw nearly 20% GDP during the same period. This laggard performance, when combined with a lack of coordinated regional economic planning, made it harder for companies to attract talent, for entrepreneurs to start businesses, and for households to build wealth.
St. Louis leaders embraced the recipe of successful metropolitan areas as a way to reverse this decades-long trend. Successful metros collaborate to compete across jurisdictions and sectors, spending time and money on research and development, workforce development, infrastructure, entrepreneurial support, and other building blocks of successful economies. They bring out the potential of all their residents, addressing racial and ethnic disparities and expanding people’s access to opportunity and prosperity. They invest local civic and corporate wealth in local ventures and build partnership organizations with the capacity, capital and community standing to deliver transformative change. They construct ecosystems that routinely connect enterprises with the talent, capital, customers and services they need to grow.
The STL 2030 Jobs Plan explains how St. Louis business and civic leaders can band together to steer the economy with focus and discipline, using measures and metrics to set targets, gauge progress and nimbly adjust to market disruptions and new opportunities that arise.
Inclusive growth: The plan’s north star
Given the metro’s history of lagging economic performance, boosting economic growth and job creation are a central priority. But that growth also needs to substantially reduce the racial disparities on income, health and wealth that have held back the entire regional economy. This dual emphasis on outcomes as well as opportunities is what distinguishes an inclusive growth agenda from a narrower inclusion agenda.
Working with local stakeholders such as the United Way of Greater St. Louis and the Center for Civic Research and Innovation, we assembled the following definition of inclusive growth to guide our work:
“(…)broad-based economic growth that enables all stakeholders in the Saint Louis metropolitan area (including residents, workers, entrepreneurs, companies and communities) to realize their full potential. Such growth enables the widest range of people and places to both contribute to and benefit from economic success.
Its purpose is to achieve more prosperity alongside greater equity in opportunities and outcomes by substantially increasing the number of quality jobs while radically reducing racial and spatial disparities in income, health and wealth that have undermined metropolitan performance for decades.”
Connecting people to opportunities in the regional labor market is vital. But an inclusive growth strategy must also proactively influence the nature of employment opportunities by growing jobs in clusters of competitive advantages, shaping the occupational and sectoral make-up of the economy, and ultimately pushing up levels of pay and improving terms and conditions of employment contracts.
How will the plan be carried out?
Past collaborative efforts point the way forward for the St. Louis metro. Fifteen years ago, civic leaders William Danforth, John McDonnell and others, in collaboration with a number of anchor institutions, created BioSTL and the Danforth Plant Science Center and launched 21st-century innovation hubs Cortex and 39 North to make the most of the metro’s potential strengths in biosciences. Danforth and McDonnell understood that global leadership in this space would require communities to build and steward deep competencies in and relationships across universities, companies, support organizations, talent providers and investors. They showed how to build an advanced economy with intentionality and purpose, patience and collaboration.
St. Louis has done it before—now is the time to do it again, but on a larger scale.
What does the plan entail?
The STL 2030 Jobs Plan calls for five signature strategies that together will build capacity and harness capital to organize for success across sectors, industries, universities and support organizations.
- Steward an inclusive economy by enlisting anchor institutions to buy, hire, invest, and locate locally. Greater STL, Inc. will provide the leadership needed to keep stakeholders focused on the plan’s mission and goals.
- Restore the St. Louis urban core as the vibrant jobs and cultural center of the metro through inclusive placemaking, regeneration of historically Black neighborhoods and ongoing investment in urban innovation districts.
- Build a world-class ecosystem for small businesses and entrepreneurs by improving small business owners’ ready access to reliable customers, quality capital, experienced advisors and investors, and vibrant commercial corridors.
- Make St. Louis a talent engine and magnet by cultivating mutually beneficial relationships between education, workforce training and industry to align program offerings with projected skills needs.
- Make St. Louis a hub for 21st-century industries and technologies by investing in healthy and resilient cluster ecosystems in regional industry strengths such as bioscience, advanced manufacturing and location sciences.
We believe the STL 2030 Jobs Plan has the potential to drive inclusive growth by boosting quality job creation and providing well-supported opportunities for workers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. The plan builds on real strengths and assets in the Saint Louis metropolitan economy and addresses disinvestment and lack of collaboration that pose significant barriers to inclusive growth. And it is fit to the moment, as the metro and the nation grapple with the global pandemic, economic crisis, and an ongoing racial reckoning.
Perhaps most significantly, we believe that the STL 2030 Jobs Plan reflects the many St. Louisans we engaged who are hopeful, committed, clear-eyed, and genuinely excited about the economic possibilities and potential of this grand metropolis.