By ALAN J. ORTBALS
The fight over the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency has been very disappointing. We talk a lot about regionalism but this tug of war has made it clear that it is just talk. The old, small-minded parochialism still rules in the Lou.
If we really practiced what we preach, we would all be focused on moving the NGA to the Scott Air Force Base site. Why? Because at Scott, the NGA not only bolsters our region’s sixth-largest employer — one with a $3 billion annual economic impact on the region — but, coupled with the $56 million DISA CONUS center nearing completion, it creates a formidable magnet to attract other DOD missions to Scott as well as private sector users seeking to build upon this powerful cyber-security base. For Missourians, think of it in terms of locating suppliers next to Boeing and maybe you’ll begin to understand how important this is to the future of the regional economy.
The redevelopment of North St. Louis is of great importance to the region as well, but locating the NGA there is not the way to do it. What is needed there are jobs — not jobs that are simply transplanted but jobs for the people of North St. Louis. The city should be focused on developing business parks and attracting the kinds of businesses that will utilize the local labor pool. The unemployment rate in the city’s proposed area is over 25 percent. Put the NGA there and it will still be 25 percent because its 3,000 employees live throughout the region and they’re not going to move.
Take a look at the photo herein of the National Personnel Records Center on I-270 in North St. Louis County. The NGA will be similar — a big building with a big parking lot, surrounded by a big fence with a guard shack at the entrance. Does anyone really think that such a facility would have any economic impact on North St. Louis at all? The employees will drive in in the morning and out in the evening and that will be that.
What the area needs are more businesses like Faultless Healthcare Linen that the city is threatening to force out to make room for the NGA. The smart move would be to use Faultless as a base to attract more businesses to the area and create more jobs for its residents. Build workforce housing nearby so that people have a decent place to live with jobs that they can walk to. If they would do that, they could create a stable base to attract more business and residential development and catalyze real revitalization.
Here’s hoping that the NGA will make the right decision. If they do, we’ll be able to strengthen Scott and rebuild North St. Louis and those should both rank as some of our highest regional priorities.
Alan J. Ortbals is president and publisher of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or (618) 659-1977.
By ALAN J. ORTBALS