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Commentary: Let people have direct influence into RCGA governance

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 13, 2011 - For the first time since 1992, the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association is searching for new leadership. The goal needs to be to find someone who aspires to greatness. Too much about St. Louis is about whom one knows rather than the power of one's ideas.

It is time for the people of our community to come together, rise up and participate in the selection of the next leader of the St. Louis RCGA. Perhaps it is time for the St. Louis Convention and Visitor's Commission to include Illinois when promoting the region. Now could be the time to bring together the whole community under the leadership of an individual who can claim to represent the entire area's best interests. That could serve as a model for regional cooperation in Illinois and Missouri similar to efforts in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.

For 10 years, I worked as Illinois aggressively reached out to partner with St. Louis through the RCGA only to be told "No, thank you" -- often by its leadership. St. Louis, we were told, did not need or want an East County. Yet Illinois is leading the region in growth. The RCGA, the Convention and Visitors' Commission and the St. Louis Sports Commission pay little heed to the needs of the 600,000+ residents of Madison and St. Clair counties who go to downtown events and populate St. Louis business' offices.

If we could put together a process to open the selection of the leader of one of the most powerful organizations in the area to community involvement on both sides of the Mississippi River, how much closer could be our chance to create a regional advisory group to address issues on a metropolitan scale, rather than on a parochial basis?

RCGA claims to represent 15 counties with more than 3 million people; one of the top 20 media markets in America and yet its leadership is still chosen in the back room by a bunch of insiders. St. Louis may like its government small and close to home, however the problems we face are large and global.

The person who has sway over our future direction and serves as the face of our business community can lead us forward or hold us back.

I believe it is time for St. Louis to act like it is a major metropolitan area. We must act as one and bring to bear all of our resources - manufacturing, health care, recreation, quality of life, logistics, service industry expertise, transportation and a multi-talented workforce -- to attract businesses of the future and retain our existing partners.

We are in the midst of the greatest intergenerational shifts of wealth in history. The next generation of leaders in business and government needs to take a new approach and find a personality or several who can attract growth, not only from outside our metropolitan area, but to inspire existing companies to grow here, rather than move elsewhere.

Most of all we need to believe in St. Louis. We cannot eradicate homelessness and poverty immediately; however we can support the centralization of the organizations that work to help the less fortunate. We cannot buy an airline to revive Lambert St. Louis International Airport, but the recent tornado disaster can be a tipping point for the Gateway to the West to become greater than before and help balance the trade deficit through Aerotropolis, just as MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Ill., has tried before it.

We are bombarded by more channels of media than any human in history, yet we communicate less with those closest to us. What if we spent 60 minutes or even 30 talking with each other in a series of RCGA-sponsored forums to determine what we want St. Louis to be, rather than commissioning another unreadable study by outsiders? Perhaps we could spend $30 or $60 a person toward that goal voluntarily so that we all own the outcome?

I call upon the RCGA membership to open the process of selecting its next president and enfranchise the people of St. Louis. Structure it so the candidates have to campaign to get the support they need from the community, rather than just RCGA's members. Prohibit corporate funding for any campaign but set up a way to let people learn about candidates' plans from them and identify that great person with great ideas for the great city we claim to be.

Jim Grandone, owner of Grandone Public Relations & Strategic Counsel, has been active in communities in Illinois and Missouri, including the Incorporation of Chesterfield and the fight to save Scott Air Force Base. His clients have included the RCGA' s Sold On St. Louis Campaign, the St. Louis Civic Entrepreneurs Organization and the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois. A former Coro Fellow, Grandone has lived in both Illinois and Missouri.

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