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St. Louis’ $25 million grant for advanced manufacturing isn’t just for the city

The Gateway Arch and St. Louis skyline is seen from a C-21
Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
The Gateway Arch and St. Louis skyline on Oct 7. A federal grant to bolster advanced manufacturing will go to help the whole St. Louis region, not just individual parts of it.

The $25 million federal grant the St. Louis region recently won to bolster advanced manufacturing is intended for all residents, not just those in the city.

That was a key criteria the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration considered when awarding the Build Back Better Challenge grants, said Assistant U.S. Secretary for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo.

“Regional economic impact is what we were looking for, to make sure it wasn’t just circumscribed into a city, but that it actually had a much further reach,” she said while visiting St. Louis on Wednesday to discuss the grant.

One of the largest shares of St. Louis’ funding goes to establish the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Center, which will be located in north St. Louis.

101922_ES_Alejandra Castillo.jpg
Eric Schmid
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St. Louis Public Radio
Assistant U.S. Secretary for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo speaks at a roundtable about St. Louis' Build Back Better Challenge Grant on Wednesday.

But residents throughout the region, including the Metro East, will have access to its resources, said Rodney Crim, CEO and president of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

“This is a broad, across-the-region win, and just the center of it is located in north St. Louis city,” he said.

Leslie Gill, president of Rung for Women, another grant recipient, said residents don’t even need to physically go to the innovation center to tap into its resources.

“Through technology, through all of the things we’ve learned post-COVID and how to work,” she said, “you can connect to [the innovation center] in any place in the region.”

And residents will be able to engage with advanced manufacturing beyond the innovation center too. Gill said the $1 million her organization was awarded will help develop programs to help women who want to break into the industry.

“It’s not just the Boeings of the world, it’s any company that is making small things,” she said. “We want to hear from them and know where they’re seeing gaps in their talent pipeline, and we want to be that solution.”

It’s something Rung for Women has already found success with relating to the geospatial industry, Gill added. She explained that those who go through the Rung for Women program receive recognized credentials that position them for success.

There are other ways St. Louis prioritized goals that help the whole region, such as funding going to organizations seeking to develop more minority and women entrepreneurs involved in advanced manufacturing.

“Having these access points, these doorways that everyone can just come in, and they know they are welcome,” said Kevin Wilson, executive director of the Small Business Empowerment Center. 

Some economic development leaders acknowledged it was important to pull together a strong case, considering the region’s history.

“We knew St. Louis did not have a good history of working together on these massive federal opportunities,” said Greater St. Louis Inc. CEO Jason Hall. “And some people said, ‘I’ll take a pass.’”

But Castillo added that the St. Louis region’s vision as a whole resonated with her department and is one of the reasons it was an eventual winner.

“That brought together individuals across the board who have a different stake in this process,” she said. “What you saw was a coalition that was robust, holistic and one that really brought to bear all of the assets the region has.”

Eric Schmid covers economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.

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