Out of all possible locations in the United States, German seed company KWS chose St. Louis as the site of its North American headquarters. What made St. Louis stand out from the rest?
According to Donald Danforth Plant Science Center President James Carrington and COO Sam Fiorello, KWS was attracted to the St. Louis region because of its community spirit and because of the world-class research facilities available at the Bio-Research & Development Growth Park (BRDG Park) on the Danforth Center campus.
Carrington and Fiorello, who is also president of BRDG Park, appeared on St. Louis on the Air today to discuss the research and initiatives underway at the Danforth Center, and how they were able to land such a big bioscience fish. KWS is the fourth-largest seed company in the world.
The quality of the Danforth Center’s research facilities was enough to get St. Louis and the Center in the running for KWS’ North American research headquarters. But in order to be selected, the Center had to convince KWS that St. Louis was better than its reputation.
“Last December we were on the shortlist. There were four locations they were looking at, and frankly I think we were number four,” said Fiorello. “There are some metrics that show up that don’t show us in the best light—high crime, and not a place of innovation, not a place where millennials or young scientists will come.”
A delegation representing the Regional Chamber, the Danforth Center, and city and state economic development officials flew to Germany and made a case for St. Louis.
“We said listen, here’s the reality of St. Louis and come spend some time, spend a couple days. And they did. They followed up with a visit here in January, and they saw the incredible energy here, the innovation that is happening here, places like BRDG Park and Cortex, they spent time with folks from Washington University. They saw the gems of Forest Park and the museums, and they got to talk to young millennials who had moved here recently, and they said this is a lot different than the picture that we’re reading about,” said Fiorello.
From a discussion about KWS, Fiorello and Carrington moved on to a conversation about the mission of the Danforth Center, initiatives to encourage science and technology education in St. Louis, and current research underway at Danforth.
Danforth exists to do two things, said Carrington: feed the world and preserve the environment.
“Over the next 40 years, we have to produce more food through agriculture than what was produced in the last 8,000 years combined,” explained Carrington. “We have the technology to do it now, but we would suffocate the planet if we used the current tools and technologies. To provide for the populations we expect, and to feed them the way we expect that they will want to be fed, we don’t have enough water to do it with current technology.”
Because of the growing need for water to produce more food, water may soon supersede oil as an instigator of conflict said Fiorello.
There have been several books written on the topic he said, before adding that he believed the next world wars will be over fresh water.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to either get plants to thrive with less water, or perhaps plants that will thrive in brackish water,” said Fiorello.
In terms of science education, Carrington and Fiorello raved about the success of a partnership with St. Louis Community College to train research technicians.
“One of the things that every company needs, and in fact places like the Danforth Center need is just some skilled hands at the bench to do experiments. It’s an underpinning of the laboratory,” said Fiorello. “It’s terrific not only because of the opportunity and jobs it’s giving to the people going through the program, but it’s also a very powerful attractor to companies we’re recruiting because they can see that the workforce is right there.”
Graduates of the St. Louis Community College biotechnology associate’s degree work throughout BRDG Park and the Danforth Center, with 98 percent finding employment upon completion of the degree. According to Carrington, the placement for graduates of the program would be 100 percent, but two percent decide to continue their education and get bachelor’s degrees.