I first moved to southern Illinois in 2007, and in 2010 the St. Louis Post Dispatch ran a series of articles titled
Can St. Louis Compete. It compared the region to other up-and-coming regions such as Dallas/Ft. Worth and the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. I grew up in Durham, NC, and my father worked at the EPA — the first building built in the RTP in the late 60’s. I lived in the DFW area for 5 years before moving to Illinois. I have to admit, I was more than a little chagrined to have moved from two places known for their young, eager talent, to a place in the Rust Belt suffering an identity crisis.

St. Louis has historically been built on Fortune 500 companies like Purina, Emerson Electric, and Anheiser Busch, and has depended on auto manufacturing for major employment. This was a city where people planned on working at the same company for 25 years and innovation was prized less than your ability to be faithful and dedicated to the same job for the long haul. Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, most of our major companies have been purchased by other, larger companies; (Nestle bought Purina, Anheiser Busch was bought by InBev) and job cuts have ensued. No longer can people count on a desk job and a pension. Furthermore, auto assembly plants have drastically reduced their employment numbers based on a variety of factors, included factory automation. One of the largest assembly plants closed, leaving thousands out of work.

St. Louis has had to dig deep and ask itself, in this new global landscape, how
do we compete? I’m happy to say that I’ve seen many positive changes in just the last 8 years that I’ve lived in this area. I’ve seen a number of positive signs of change, that I’d like to point out:

  • While Monsanto is the company people love to hate, the truth is that agriscience is BIG here in the Midwest and there are many gifted scientists and engineers who are focused on farming, food science, and bioscience in general. Before I moved to St. Louis, as a city girl, I never gave much thought to how food was harvested or processed. I’ve now learned how truly
    technical bioscience can be, and what a massive revenue generator it can be as well; after all, everyone in the world needs to eat.

    • Thanks to donations from foundations like Danforth foundation, we have incredible research facilities opening up like the
      Danforth Plant Science Center.
    • Cortex is a bio-science incubator that is growing by leaps and bounds.
    • BioSTL is a coalition of businesses and universities working to foster biotechnical entrepreneurship and research. St. Louis is finding its soul as a bioscience magnet.
  • St. Louis has traditionally lacked the infrastructure to facilitate entrepreneurship. There’s been a low immigrant population (that statistically starts new businesses more frequently than the native-born population), low angel investor participation, and not much access to the capital available on either coast. Incredible leaps and bounds have happened in all these areas in the last several years:
    • We now have many co-location spaces dedicated to fostering collaboration between start-up ventures, like
      Helix Center BioTech Incubator, and
      STL Venture Works, and more.
    • We now have several organizations working specifically to foster entrepreneurship among women and minorities. Some examples include
      Propsper, a group that is starting from the ground up with mastermind groups, college groups, and investor funding.
      NAWBO has been around for a while in St. Louis, but it continues to support women business owners.
    • I know several personal friends of mine focused on coaching and mentoring women and minority business owners. Erin Joy is owner of
      Black Dress Partners and fosters women-owned businesses.
      Devon Moody-Graham is focused on helping black entrepreneurs in the St. Louis and Metro East area succeed.
    • St. Louis started business competition called
      Arch Grants that awards funding to start-ups with the provision that they move their headquarters to somewhere in downtown St. Louis. The award program is only several years old, but the city has already seen young companies transplant from other cities to St. Louis. Attracting new talent is what this city needs!

In the last couple years, we’ve seen St. Louis go from a run down manufacturing town to an up and coming tech center. Boeing recently announced it moved its IT headquarters from the Seattle area to St. Louis. Tech startups like
LockerDome are thriving. One of the co-founders of Square has started a technical training company called
Launch Code, whose aim is to provide skilled individuals to shore up the desperate lack of IT talent in the country.

I’m excited about the momentum I’m seeing in this adopted city of mine. I can’t wait to see where the next five years takes the city.

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Owner of Savvy Technical Solutions

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