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Take five: Joe Reagan, new head of the RCGA

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 20, 2011 - Recently, the Regional Chamber and Growth Association announced the choice of its new president and CEO.

Joe Reagan, 48, will be coming to St. Louis just before the RCGA's annual meeting on Jan. 26, from Louisville, Ky., where he has served as the president and CEO of the Greater Louisville Inc.-Metro Chamber of Commerce since 2005.

He'll be living temporarily at the Marquette condos downtown and will be joined by his wife, Julie Reagan, and children (they have seven) once the school year ends. After that, Reagan says, he isn't quite sure where his family will land in St. Louis.

"Really, it's too soon to narrow in," he says. "We've really been blown away by the mosaic of neighborhoods and choices we have in St. Louis."

On Monday morning, Reagan took a few minutes to speak with the Beacon about the work he's done in Louisville and the work that awaits him in St. Louis. Answers were edited for space and clarity.

What has surprised you most about St. Louis?

Reagan: What surprised me the most is how charitable and how engaged the private sector is in building up St. Louis in all aspects, from United Way to the RCGA to education. Really, that kind of community engagement is absolutely necessary for a community to be great, but it is the depth and breadth of that community engagement was surprising and inspiring.

Your predecessor, Dick Fleming, led the RCGA for 17 years. What has he told you about St. Louis and the work ahead of you with your new position?

Reagan: Dick has created an amazing platform and strong organization and has really focused on getting St. Louis positioned well for the coming decades. What he's told me is that it is a great place to raise a family. He knows that that's most important to Julie and me. And he's told me about the opportunities both in early stage company development and building on strengths in the various clusters that the RCGA has identified, and the opportunities to build on the assets of St. Louis, especially in the areas of higher education.

Among your list of accomplishments from your time in Louisville is leading a bi-state, 26-county visioning campaign. St. Louis has both regional and public/private fragmentation. Do you have thoughts yet about what approach you can take to solve those issues here and achieve the same thing you were able to do in Louisville?

Reagan: In Louisville we focused on an abundance mentality. The whole focus starts with: How can we work together to build a bigger economic pie, a bigger and greater Louisville? As I look toward St. Louis, I want to help bring that attitude out of individuals and organization and leaders. In the end, what people crave is a sense of hope and abundance as St. Louis finds its way in a very challenging global economy. If we can focus on the outside -- what are those opportunities globally for our citizens and for our companies, what are the challenges in being a great American city in this global knowledge economy, and how can we work together to make sure more people are taking part in prosperity? -- that approach is the key to bringing people together. In Louisville, we learned it takes time, it takes patience, it takes relationships, it takes focus on collaborative results. It's not just about collaboration, it's about achieving something.

You've probably read the recent column in Forbes "St. Louis Doesn't Suck," which basically says we have, among other things, some PR issues in our city and most of the country doesn't know about all the great stuff here. Do you agree with the premise of the article, and with a background in communications, what do you think we should do differently?

Reagan: First of all, the buzz that I'm getting from people about St. Louis as I've announced that I'm coming has been great. People who are not in St. Louis right now, who know the community very well, uniformly tell us what a great city it is and they're very specific about things like music and the restaurant scene, the park system and higher education and the job opportunities. That authentic buzz is the key to any good communications strategy. You have to be a great community first, and St. Louis is that. The key will be for those of us in St. Louis to own that and to start telling that story ourselves. ... In the end, that's what's most important. It's not about what any organization says, it's really about what individuals say.

You'll be starting your first day with the RCGA in February. What are you planning on starting with that first day and in the days and weeks that come after?

Reagan: My first job is to seek to understand. I'm coming into a situation working with colleagues throughout the bi-state region who have labored hard and effectively in creating a greater St. Louis and it's my job to seek first to understand the facts, the people, the relationships in St. Louis. So in the first few weeks, it will be a process I'm looking forward to, which is really being engaged with people to understand the situation ahead. There will be time then to start to working with people to look at the next very important question: What does winning look like? How do we really see the future and what do we need to do to create that future state?

Kristen Hare