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Stenger: Next Economic Development Chief Must Be Aggressive In Bringing New Businesses To County

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger delivers his inaugural address on Jan. 1, 2015. Stenger is coming into office with an ambitious agenda to change St. Louis County government -- and the legislative alliances to help him out.
File photo by Bill Greenblatt | UPI

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger won’t have a direct role in picking the replacement for St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO Denny Coleman. 

But with an eye toward a more aggressive economic development strategy, Stenger says he wants Coleman’s successor to be assertive in seeking out new opportunities.

“This is an extremely important and key position,” Stenger said on Tuesday. “And we are going to need someone who is dynamic and willing, as I said, to work directly with the county executive, to work directly with me and, frankly, go about the country and bring businesses here.”

“We have a short window of opportunity to rebuild St. Louis,” he added.

Coleman announced last week that he would be retiring as the head of the partnership, which is the economic development agency for St. Louis and St. Louis County. A 15-member board governs the partnership – and the county executive appoints 11 of the members.

Stenger campaigned on adopting a more assertive economic development strategy – including going to other states to find businesses that will bring jobs. He wants Coleman’s successor to buy into that philosophy.

“I hope that the person that takes that position is a person that is dynamic and who is willing to move outside of the St. Louis zone and move into other locales and jurisdictions and quite literally bring businesses to St. Louis,” Stenger said.

According to a fact sheet sent to St. Louis Public Radio, five seats will become vacant on Aug. 1 – the day that Coleman is expected to leave. Two members must belong to the county’s Industrial Development Authority and Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.

In other words, Stenger can't appoint 11 people to the partnership’s board before Coleman retires and then get them to pick his choice for Coleman’s successor. But Stenger said his office could still provide a lot of guidance on how the transition to a new economic development chief should proceed -- especially since the county supplies most of the partnership's fund.

“The executive branch actually funds the partnership – about three-quarters of it,” Stenger said. “So I think that just through the budgetary process alone that we will have some appropriate influence" on who's selected.

Coleman told St. Louis Public Radio last week that he expects an executive search firm will assist the partnership’s board in looking for his replacement. He added that the partnership will look “nationally, as well as locally, to find a successor.”

“I would hope that we could do that in such a fashion that I would have some time with that person before I would leave on Aug. 1,” Coleman said. “That remains to be seen whether we can move that quickly.”

Coleman has also been chairman of the International Economic Development Council, which claims nearly 4,600 members.

“I think there will be a lot of interest – I really do,” Coleman said. “This has become a really great organization. So hopefully we’re going to attract some really good candidates.”

Can aggressiveness help?

For his part, Coleman said there’s a lot to like about Stenger’s approach to economic development. 

St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO Denny Coleman
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO Denny Coleman

Coleman said typically the partnership has spent “a lot of time and effort making sure the great companies that are here stay here and expand.”

He added that the St. Louis Regional Chamber has typically taken the lead in spearheading “job attraction efforts.”

“It is a viable option. And the county executive wants to do more of that, which I think is great,” Coleman said. “I think his involvement, the mayor’s involvement with CEOs of other companies is very important.”

Coleman said the partnership played a supporting role in getting KWS Company to relocate at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. He said that would not have worked “without collaboration among numerous parties."

“We have used that methodology for meeting with existing companies in a great number of cases,” Coleman said. “The CEOs like meeting with the chief elected officials. And so, doing that also from a business attraction standpoint is just an expansion of that. I think it’s a totally viable option for us to pursue even more strongly.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.