Without question, the latter part of 2014 proved to be a challenging time for the St. Louis region as events related to Ferguson, Mo., unfolded.
In the wake of the turmoil, however, regional leaders are more attuned to the problems that must be addressed, and to the need for a collaborative approach. One only has to look to some of the region’s recent successes to understand just how much can be accomplished when passionate people work together toward a common goal.
While examples abound across the region, the spirit of cooperation that exists both within Southwestern Illinois and between economic development and civic leaders in the Metro East and their counterparts in St. Louis is worthy of note.
One of the most visible examples is the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. While the decades-long effort to create a new Mississippi River crossing had some bumps along the way, bi-state leaders ultimately found middle ground, paving the way for the magnificent bridge that today facilitates easier traffic flow between Missouri and Illinois and will be a catalyst for future growth.
Less visible but equally important is the Metro East levee improvement initiative. Thanks to early action by Sen. Bill Haine, the Illinois congressional delegation, and Southwestern Illinois’ County Board chairmen, the region has the funding to get the $100 million job done so the levees can be reaccredited by FEMA and the residents and businesses behind them can avoid skyrocketing flood insurance costs.
Jobs are another critical issue behind which we can unite, so it’s no surprise that protecting and growing the 13,000 jobs at Scott Air Force Base remains a regional effort. The Task Force leading that effort is guided by representatives of St. Clair and Madison counties and the Leadership Council, which recently raised $1.5 million to support the ongoing work. The overwhelming support came from businesses, organizations and communities on both sides of the river, including many in Southwestern Illinois, along with the St. Louis Regional Chamber, Regional Business Council and Civic Progress.
The forming St. Louis Regional Freight District also is focused on job creation, as it aims to capitalize on the growth anticipated in freight shipments across the United States. Launched by East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the Regional Chamber, the Leadership Council and Bi-State Development Agency, the new district will be tasked with promoting the region as a premier multimodal freight center in the Midwest.
We also know that no factor is more critical to our region’s competitive position than increasing educational attainment to meet current and future workforce needs. Regional leaders are collaborating to help strengthen and develop a competitive workforce.
Over the longer term, continued job growth will be dependent on our ability to learn from Ferguson, and to apply those lessons. Some may see the situation as a St. Louis issue, but the reality is that it impacts our region at large because we are perceived as one. That’s why we are working with regional leaders to determine the best ways to move forward and regain positive mindshare for St. Louis.
Yes, it will take some time; but given our shared passion to make the St. Louis region a better place to live, work and invest, we have every confidence that if we continue to work together, we will prevail.
Ellen Krohne is executive director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois. Joe Reagan is president and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber.