New Director Of St. Louis Development Corporation Says Economic Justice Is The Priority
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones on Thursday named Neal Richardson as the new executive director of the St. Louis Development Corporation.
Richardson will start in the role at the end of the month, replacing longtime director Otis Williams, who announced his plans to retire last year.
Jones touted Richardson’s credentials in a statement, noting his 14 years' experience in community and economic development.
“Neal Richardson understands that equitable development is more than just brick and mortar. From his time leading the Business Impact Group at U.S. Bank to his work as President of Dream Builders 4 Equity, I know Neal will encourage forward-thinking, holistic development that opens up opportunities for families across our city,” she said.
Richardson said his vision for the department focuses on economic justice — “which is really addressing the historical barriers, the economic inequities and closing the racial wealth gap, and creating opportunities for everyone to participate in the economic system within our region,” he said. “That’s how we grow together in a stronger and more strategic way.”
He said the focus needs to be on revitalizing neighborhoods in north St. Louis, which have been neglected by developers for decades. The work is personal for Richardson, who grew up in the Lewis Place neighborhood, which is just north of Delmar Boulevard and the Central West End neighborhood.
Over the past four years, he’s built up a place-based model for equitable development through an organization he co-founded, Dream Builders 4 Equity. The nonprofit works with community groups to identify and rehab dilapidated homes in distressed neighborhoods, including Hyde Park. It also provides jobs for minority contractors and young people.
Richardson said his vision for economic development has the potential to dramatically transform people's lives in neighborhoods that are most in need of investment.
“When you invest in wealth-building opportunities for our youth and for our underserved communities, you will have a reduction in crime because you're creating opportunities for people to really think about their future, and not worry about surviving every day,” he said. “We have to create an environment of a thriving mentality, rather than just survival to make it to see the next day.”
Richardson said he plans to use the Equitable Economic Development Framework recently developed by the St. Louis Development Corporation as a jumping-off point.
He said there are many strategies that could be implemented, but he wants to focus on using the framework to create a new action plan around four priorities:
- Equitable and inclusive real estate development.
- Neighborhood revitalization.
- Business empowerment.
- Workforce development.
Richardson said his biggest challenge will be to bring politicians, business owners and residents from across the region together to work toward a shared vision.
“But in order to do that, we must do it with the focus on economic justice and addressing those historical barriers and gaps that have prevented everyone from having a seat at the table,” he said.
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