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National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency belongs at Scott

    Why in the world do we look upon moving jobs from one part of the metropolis to another as economic development? A few years ago, the state of Missouri used nearly a quarter of a million dollars worth of tax credits to lure sandwich maker Landshire, Inc. from Belleville to Laclede’s Landing.
Al Ortbals    Or, more bizarre than that was the case of the city of Bridgeton, Mo., creating a TIF district and handing over more than $7 million to a real estate developer to move a Walmart store a little bit west on St. Charles Rock Road from neighboring St. Ann.
    We fight each other for pieces of the pie instead of fighting together to make the pie bigger. Well, get ready for another fight.
    After conducting a year-long site selection analysis, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it planned to move the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency from its current location on South Second Street in the city of St. Louis to one of six finalist sites.
    • The former Chrysler plant property in Fenton;
    • The site of the former Metropolitan Life Insurance building on Tesson Ferry Road in South County;
    • North Park, a business park near Lambert St. Louis Airport;
    • A site along I-64 in Weldon Spring, Mo.;
    • The Pruitt-Igoe site on Jefferson Ave. in north St. Louis; and
    • A site adjacent to Scott Air Force Base.
    The various constituencies are already jockeying for position and trying to make their case as to why it should be built in their back yard. Really?! These jobs already exist. The employees already live here. And, the St. Louis metro area isn’t so large that it’s going to get many — if any — of the 3,000 to move their homes regardless of which of the six is chosen.
    Where the NGA goes should be determined by what’s best for the NGA and what is best for us as a region. If it’s decided on that basis, Scott Air Force Base is the obvious choice.
    It’s the right choice for the Department of Defense. The key word in the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is INTELLIGENCE. The NGA provides top-secret intelligence for the DOD. For example, the NGA located Osama Bin Laden’s compound, determined how many people lived there and even their heights. The agency needs to be in a highly secure area. Scott is that place.
    The NGA interfaces with other DOD missions like USTRANSCOM which supplies transportation for the eight other U.S. combatant commands, the military services, defense agencies and other governmental agencies; and DISA, the Defense Information Systems Agency which provides, operates and assures command and control and information-sharing capabilities and a globally accessible information infrastructure supporting the full spectrum of military operations. Both USTRANSCOM and DISA are located at Scott.
    And, while the 3,000 NGA employees will simply be taking a new route to work, when it comes time to add or replace staff, Scott is surrounded by a large workforce of technology pros who are retired from the Air Force or working for one of the plethora of IT contractors working for Scott.
    It’s also good for the region. At $3.2 billion annually, Scott has one of the largest impacts on the regional economy of any business or institution in the area. But, with the cost-cutting mantra in Washington, it’s always under the gun as the DOD seeks ways to reduce spending. The Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois is already geared up to protect Scott even though a new round of BRAC has yet to be announced. Anything we can do to add to Scott’s mission, expand its role and strengthen its position in the DOD, we need to do.
    I’m familiar with each of the other sites and they are all great sites but there’s no particular reason to put a military intelligence agency there. Those areas — and the region as a whole — would be much better served with private development. The Pruitt-Igoe site is screaming for someone to develop a multi-tenant business park there that could supply jobs for neighborhood residents. It would be a shame to just move existing jobs there instead of creating new ones and, once again, calling it economic development.
    Missouri folks don’t know Scott Air Force Base from the dark side of the moon but if it were on the west side of the river instead of the east, there’d only be one site under consideration instead of six.
    Alan J. Ortbals is president and publisher of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at or (618) 659-1997.

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