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Economy & Business

Plan Maps Out How St. Louis Could Become A Global Geospatial Hub Over Next Decade

Drawings by a joint venture between McCarthy Building Companies and HITT Contracting show an aerial view of the new western headquarters of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in north St. Louis.
Provided | McCarthy-HITT
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's western headquarters, anticipated to open its doors in 2025, is the catalyst for growing a larger industry.

A group of St. Louis economic development and civic leaders released a plan Tuesday detailing how the region could turn the geospatial industry into a global hub over the next 10 years.

The plan, dubbed GeoFutures, outlines next steps for developing the workforce, infrastructure and entrepreneurship needed to attract more companies and investors in the industry.

A nearly 30-member advisory committee crafted the strategy over the past nine months. It included two former directors of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, as well as leaders from civic, academic and business sectors.

The GeoFutures plan outlines five overarching priorities:

  • Scale up local geospatial talent and workforce development.
  • Raise innovation capacity for the commercialization of geospatial applications.
  • Increase entrepreneurship and pools of investor money.
  • Support community-driven development in neighborhoods around the new NGA West.
  • Brand St. Louis as a global thought leader in geospatial technology.

Andy Dearing, GeoFutures project lead and president of Spatial STL Advisors, said the new $1.75 billion NGA western headquarters is the catalyst for growing a much larger local industry. Construction in north St. Louis is underway, and about 3,000 local employees are expected to move to the new campus in 2025.

Dearing said there hasn’t been an opportunity to grow a new industry in St. Louis since the boom of biotech and ag tech industries two decades ago. 

He said now that tech centers like Cortex and T-Rex have matured, the geospatial industry can build off efforts that have boosted entrepreneurship and research.

“We've seen the transformative impacts that that's made to the local St. Louis region,” he said. “Ultimately, we're trying to create more jobs, create more innovation, create more capabilities, create more opportunity.”

Dearing sees the potential to double or triple the number of geospatial-related jobs in the St. Louis region. He said the plan lays out a concerted effort to develop that workforce locally by working with K-12 schools and universities, while focusing on under-represented communities.

The geospatial industry currently supports 27,000 jobs and has had a total economic impact of nearly $5 billion, according to an analysis last year from TEConomy Partners commissioned by the St. Louis Development Corporation.

Jason Hall, CEO of Arch to Park, weighed in on the plan. He said it signals to investors and companies across the country that St. Louis is serious about geospatial.

“Funding follows good ideas and a plan,” he said. “I think by showing where this region is going, it helps create investor confidence that if you invest in St. Louis in geospatial, you’re a part of something much bigger, not just an isolated idea.”

Plus, he noted there’s competition for the title of global geospatial hub. The UK recently released a similar five-year geospatial strategy.

Moving forward, a GeoFutures Coalition will oversee recommendations included in the report, like the establishment of a Black professional tech entrepreneurship program and a fund to match investments in geospatial companies.

Part of a larger plan

The GeoFutures plan is one piece of a much larger city-backed initiative to bring economic equality and growth to St. Louis, said Otis Williams, executive director of the St. Louis Development Corporation.

Williams, who helped secure the NGA West deal in an effort to keep jobs in St. Louis, said the city promised to provide infrastructure improvements to increase accessibility to the site — which is located in the St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou neighborhoods.

Over the next 10 years, he said that will include a lot of improvements to roads. Funding has been secured to start construction along Jefferson Avenue next year, he said.

Williams added that diversity and inclusion need to be at the forefront of all development plans going forward. He said that means making sure African American residents around the NGA are a part of the change in their neighborhoods — where development has lagged for decades.

“From where we are today to 10 years from now, it will be visually impacted positively,” he said. “That the educational level and the income levels of the citizens who are living in that area have all improved — those are goals that we would like to see.”

Williams said the city will release its long-anticipated Equitable Economic Development Framework next month. 

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Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

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