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St. Louis Jobs Plan Revised To Focus More On Equitable Development In Fractured Region

For many out-of-state visitors driving to St. Louis, the Gateway Arch is their first glimpse of Missouri.
File photo / David Kovaluk / St. Louis Public Radio
Thousands of St. Louis-area residents have weighed in on a new jobs plan that aims to chart the region's growth over the next 10 years. The group behind the plan released an updated version on Wednesday that took those comments into consideration.

Greater St. Louis Inc. released its updated jobs plan for the St. Louis metropolitan area Wednesday morning. That’s after reviewing a wave of public feedback—some might say blowback—following the first plan’s release in December.

The newly formed economic development group laid out a 10-year road map that focuses heavily on a strategy to beef up the region’s core in an inclusive way that also reduces racial disparities in income and wealth. But early critics said it fell short.

Thousands of residents across the region and many organizations have since weighed in through virtual public meetings and written comments.

“I’ve really never seen anything like this,” said Bruce Katz, author of the report and co-founder of New Localism Advisors, which helps cities develop economic growth plans. “People want this to work. People are hungry for action — that was very clear.”

Racial justice organization Forward Through Ferguson made its comments public in March. In them, Executive Director David Dwight IV said the draft took “a check-the-box approach to eliminating racial inequities.” He called on the group to commit to anti-racist, equitable economic development and laid out how to do it.

Katz said many people’s comments urged a greater focus on tackling racial disparities and bringing new voices to the table.

“What people were saying reflected what is happening in the country, and frankly what St. Louis has already gone through in many respects because of Ferguson,” Katz said.

In the report’s new foreword, Greater St. Louis writes it should have reached out to groups working in the racial equity and disability communities earlier in the process. It also acknowledges that Civic Progress — one of several groups that now make up Greater St. Louis — advocated for a bond issue passed in 1955 that led to the demolition of Mill Creek Valley, a predominantly Black community once located in the city center.

Valerie Patton, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer of Greater St. Louis, said the group needed to acknowledge those things in order to move forward.

She said the group also needs “radical collaboration” to bridge the gap in the fragmented region.

“If we continue to do things the way we’ve always done them, I think the cliche says that’s insanity. So if we want to get past insanity, we’re going to have to bring people to the table, we’re going to have to treat them with dignity and respect, we're going to have to listen to what they contribute,” she said.

Patton said that means valuing the input from communities of color, as well as communities in the eight counties in Illinois and seven counties in Missouri that make up the region.

She said some of the input has been incorporated into five new goals listed in the report:

  • Grow the number of quality jobs in the metro.
  • Strengthen employer commitment to buy, hire and invest locally.
  • Boost employment density in and rejuvenation of the urban core.
  • Expand Black and brown entrepreneurship.
  • Increase the number of Black workers with quality jobs.

Greater St. Louis defines quality jobs as those that pay 80% or more of the national median wage and include benefits — $40,000 or more in 2020.

Jason Hall, CEO of Greater St. Louis, said the feedback has been constructive and led to needed conversations across the region.

“In some ways there was as much dialogue about what to do as how we do it. And so that forward reflects what we see is a new generation of how the business community shows up in this community,” he said. “This isn't a business community that shows up and says, ‘Here's our way.’”

The plan’s five key strategies to spur growth haven’t changed. They include:

  • Steward an inclusive economy.
  • Restore the core of St. Louis as the jobs and cultural center of the region.
  • Build a world-class ecosystem for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
  • Become a talent engine and magnet.
  • Make St. Louis a hub for next-generation industries and technologies.

Hall said Greater St. Louis and its partners are already implementing aspects of the plan, including making way on projects like the Brickline Greenway.

Here's a copy of the updated plan:

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.