As much as we like to think of the New Year as a clean slate, the issues and developments of the years before carry over. With that in mind, today on St. Louis on the Air we took a look at what the trends of the past 12 months can tell us about what the St. Louis region can expect in 2014.
The conversation focused on politics and the economy, with a special focus on innovation, entrepreneurship and diversity.
Guests in studio today were:
- Alex Ihnen, editor of nextSTL.com
- Jason Hall, Vice President for Business Development & General Counsel, St. Louis Regional Chamber
- Terry Jones, Founders’ Professor of Political Science and Public Policy Administration, University of Missouri-St. Louis
- Jason Rosenbaum, innovation reporter, St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon
Joining the discussion by phone were:
- Jim McKelvey, founder of LaunchCode, co-founder of Square, Inc., co-founder of Third Degree Glass Factory
- Michael McMillan, president and CEO, Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis
For University of Missouri-St. Louis political science professor Terry Jones, 2014 will be a continuation of 2013. “A lot of the issues that were not settled then are going to resurface. How big a government, state government, we should have and how should we finance it. Medicaid expansion. Transportation and the need to take a close look and repair our transportation infrastructure. And a special urgency to the transfer issue in k-12 education, since now it’s a real issue, not a hypothetical one,” he said.
Jones also predicted continued efforts of collaboration between the city and the county, as demonstrated recently in the efforts to put together a Boeing incentive package, and pushed forward by a project called Better Together STL.
Alex Ihnen, the editor of nextSTL.com and St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon’s Jason Rosenbaum also see the transportation infrastructure - and the proposed tax to help fund it – as a major issue in 2014. Ihnen also highlighted positive economic signs in the city.
“We currently have close to 2,000 residential units that will be under construction this year, we have a Mercedes dealership, a Whole Foods, probably a ground breaking for an Ikea. These are all kind of anecdotal things in terms of how the region and the city are doing, but they’re big in St. Louis,” Ihnen said.
As an innovation reporter, Rosenbaum will also be keeping an eye on the county executive election, the possible impact of local control of the police force on crime, and the possibility of further economic development in central city.
From a business perspective, Jason Hall of the St. Louis Regional Chamber is excited about what 2014 may bring. “I certainly see a region, as we saw in 2013, well-positioned for growth,” he said, adding that 2013 was a break out year for entrepreneurship.
Beyond the brand recognition of gaining a Whole Foods and an Ikea, Hall is excited about the job growth brought to the region by the expansion of Monsanto and Reinsurance Group of America in Chesterfield and GM in Wentzville.
Beyond jobs and capital, what the resurgence of start-ups in St. Louis brings to the region is the promise and expectation of opportunity.
“I think it’s providing a new narrative to the city that we just were missing, and again I don’t think it’s all that different from what we were doing in the past, but we have this new attitude about the city. And that can have a huge impact,” nextSTL.com editor Alex Ihnen said.
As the founder of LaunchCode, the co-founder of Square Inc., and the co-founder of Third Degree Glass Factory, Jim McKelvey is at the center of the spirit of entrepreneurship in St. Louis.
“The surge is sort of happening all across the spectrum,” McKelvey said. “So we’ve got a great educated population, we’ve got great housing stock, we’ve got all those sort of raw materials. What we were missing were certain parts. We were missing some talent. We were missing some funding. And we were just sort of missing some inertia.”
But now multiple projects have developed all at once, creating a living “ecosystem.”
One talent area that St. Louis has lacked is IT. To that end, LaunchCode has partnered with Harvard to provide free online computer programing courses at St. Louis Public Library beginning January 13. The idea is that a job will be waiting for them at the end of the four month program.
According to political science professor Terry Jones, “the leadership of St. Louis, unlike the leadership thirty years ago, is very much convinced and committed to diversity, and understands that it is not simply the social justice right thing to do, it’s the economic progress right thing to do.”
But, Jones added, there is still work to be done in permeating that mindset to the whole population.
Part of the efforts of increasing diversity in the region includes recognizing that diversity goes beyond race, Ihnen said. But that’s easier said than done.
“Diversity, as was just stated, is more than black and white,” Michael McMillan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis said. “And I think the reason why it has been difficult to get past the black and white portion of the conversation is because it’s not an automatic that we have African Americans included in the process in all levels of government and civil life. And until we do that it will be difficult to have that conversation as full as it can be.”