As Dick Fleming prepares to leave the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association, and his successor Joe Reagan gets ready to move to town from Louisville, they both took time to join us today on St. Louis on the Air. You can hear their entire conversation in the archives. In the meantime, here are some highlights from our conversation with Reagan:
On coming into St. Louis from the outside
It’s energizing. By nature, I’m a fairly entrepreneurial person. I love the challenge and the freshness of new beginnings. But also, as a family, we love to set down roots and to really get in to be part of the fabric of a community. We’ve been coming to St. Louis for years. I grew up in northern Illinois. We’ve been to St. Louis as a family and enjoyed it every time.
We’ve seen an evolution, more of a transformation, especially in the last ten years in the area of downtown: seeing the vibrancy, the young professionals, downtown living and amenities. We’re comfortable with the city and energized about the opportunity. And, it’s in my DNA. (I happen to be the descendant of Daniel Boone’s father. Daniel Boone’s brother was one of my great-great-great grandfathers. There is just a pathway that we take—from Kentucky to Missouri—just to try and help out if we can.)
On fragmentation and consolidation in Louisville
We in Louisville and this region stand at the forefront of the country in terms of our regional collaboration and cooperation. It takes time. It’d be interesting if you could just add water and stir and have trusting relationships. But that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes focusing on doing things together that you can’t do by yourselves. In Louisville, over a period of time, we looked at ways that we could do functional consolidations in the public sector, whether that is school districts or sanitary districts, or water companies, or transit. Then [we looked] at the Office of Economic Development—bringing the City and County offices together. Then [we looked] at tax sharing as a way of creating more of an abundance mentality, so [we were] looking more at how we could grow the pie together, ultimately leading to City/County merger.
That’s not the magic wand. There is no magic bullet in any of this. But what all of that consolidation did in the public sector (and also in the private sector—getting our act together and creating one strong Chamber of Commerce) all of that consolidation and unifying allowed us to be a much more effective regional partner.
We are at a bi-state region here. Our river is a little different; still mighty, but not the Mighty Mississippi. It’s the Ohio. I’m looking out my window right now at the great state of Indiana. I see more of Indiana every day than I do of Kentucky. So I know that’s a huge part of our economy. We’ve been able to unite this bi-state region in a very special way.
On public reaction to merger in Louisville
The new mayor just had a task force that went through and looked at the merger and there was a very exhaustive public polling process done [that showed] overwhelming support from the citizens and the business community, and community groups that this was the right thing to do and that working together has paid off in many ways: in revitalizing downtown, in bringing new industry and saving some industry. But there will always be in any community, and should always be in a pluralistic society, people who are not happy, people who have criticisms and point out the things that we missed. And that’s what makes you better and keeps you moving towards continuous improvement.
On opportunities and challenges in St. Louis
I think in St. Louis, it is our time. The world needs and wants what St. Louis offers. It needs the amazing, creative, and innovate economy that is in St. Louis’ DNA. When you think about what [UMSL], WUSTL, and SLU have done and how they have transformed St. Louis, and how higher education just permeates everything about St. Louis in my opinion. Looking at it, that’s what I saw—I saw a community that cares about higher education and higher education that cares about the community.
It has so many home grown, innovative companies that have started in the back of garages and ideas first and foremost in people’s minds that have sprouted to these large global companies.
St. Louis is also tackling some of the toughest problems that communities are facing throughout the world, and doing it with courage. What we need to focus on is that the world wants and needs what St. Louis offers. Will we choose an abundance mentality? Will we try to make more economic pie for the people of St. Louis and the entire region or will we adopt a scarcity mentality? Will we look for opportunities to unify and put energy towards gaining more jobs, protecting the jobs we have? As important as Louisville’s and St. Louis’ location are, it’s not longer location, location, location. It’s people, people, people, and making talent and being a welcoming, inclusive community. You can look at those as challenges or opportunities. Right now, I’m looking at those as opportunities.
On education and inclusion
What I’m most proud of about my time here at Greater Louisville Inc., is that we made educational attainment the number one priority for our economic development focus. Without quantum leaps in educational attainment across the whole spectrum of education, you really cannot be competing in a knowledge based economy. We have a long way to go here in Louisville, but that is felt in every corner. We are all moving toward one goal toward economic attainment....
The other thing is the focus that we’ve done on economic inclusion—really opening up the doors of the chamber to make sure that we’re being as welcoming as we can to people from all over our neighborhoods, as well as all over the world. When you get those two things right, the business success and the job creation really does start to build on itself.