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Economy & Business

Commentary: The Power Of WE

Sam Fiorello
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Years ago when I lived and worked in Washington, D.C., the city was crippled by an intense January snowstorm. My office was a short walk from my apartment so I was able to salvage at least an abridged day of work. While walking home, with snow still falling heavily, I came upon a homeless man named Charlie whom I had seen almost daily in the same spot. When I stopped to ask Charlie if he was OK, he stood transfixed, looking at a few flakes of newly fallen snow on his gloved hand. Charlie smiled at me and said, "Isn't it amazing? Individually these flakes are so fragile. But together, they can shut down the capital city of the world's most powerful nation."

Since then, I have often reflected on that snowy encounter in terms of collaboration, and the power it has to deliver dramatic results.

Yesterday I was proud to be part of a team that announced that St. Louis had been chosen by one of the world's largest companies in the food and agriculture industry for the location of its new North American research facility. The firm, KWS, a seed company based in Germany with sales in 70 countries, launched its site selection search process more than a year ago, initially considering 15 cities in the U.S. and Canada. After months of review and data gathering, it narrowed its search to four cities - Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, and St. Louis. Early this year it culled their list to two, the Research Triangle and St. Louis. In March, KWS informed us that St. Louis had won the selection process!

The plans for the KWS Gateway Research Center call for a significant presence at the BRDG Park on the campus of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. Over the next several years, the company will build a team of 100 people through a combination of local hires and the relocation of people recruited from across the United States and, indeed, the world. Not only does this exciting news mean new jobs, but investments of all kinds: infrastructure improvement, sponsored research at institutions like the Danforth Center, philanthropic gifts to not-for-profit enterprises, and so on.

The Danforth Center has been a driver in the expansion of Missouri’s thriving global plant science corridor, creating new jobs, and generating and attracting new companies. BRDG Park serves as a vital resource for homegrown plant science start-up companies as well as a beacon for attracting established companies from across the country and around the world. KWS's decision to locate its North American research facility there is a major endorsement of the region’s reputation as a plant science and innovation hub.

When we asked representatives from KWS what set us apart, they responded that -- in addition to our strength in R&D, as evidenced by such best-in-class assets like the Danforth Center, BRDG Park, Washington University, CORTEX, the Missouri Botanical Garden and Monsanto Company -- our compelling regional advantage was our community’s collaborative spirit.  They were impressed that a team of folks from the St. Louis Regional Chamber, Economic Partnership, Missouri Partnership, as well as various businesses and academic institutions could with one voice say that WE, as a community, would be the best place for KWS to set roots in North America. By working together we were able to convince KWS that our collective whole is worth more than the sum of our parts.

And so it was that during the press announcement of the KWS Gateway Research Center, my mind wandered to that snowy January day and Charlie's sage observation of the intense power of WE. On that occasion it was the power to shut down a city, this time it's power opened a community to new opportunities. I must say, I like this outcome better. 

Sam J. Fiorello is chief operating officer of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and president, BRDG Park.

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