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POINT: Should St. Louis City and County be merged?

Yes. Better Together’s unification goal would be good for the region’s effectiveness

p20 Sitherwoodp20 MinogueBy TOM MINOGUE and SUZANNE SITHERWOOD
    Civic Progress and the Regional Chamber — our region’s 15-county bi-state Chamber of Commerce — have come together in support of the regional unification vision presented by Better Together. We truly believe that now is the perfect time to reimagine our bi-state region for everyone who lives and works here.
    We believe that the current fragmented approach to governance between the City and the County has long been an impediment to growth and equity in the St. Louis region.
    It’s been nearly 150 years since the split, and it’s resulted in a deeply divided region with costly and redundant public services, structural barriers, lagging economic growth and deep social inequities.
    Let’s consider just one measure of the duplicity and waste: right now, we have 88 municipalities in the county — some as small as a few city blocks, 55 police departments — many of which are unaccredited, 21 different dispatch systems, 81 municipal courts, 684 elected officials, and $2.5 billion in annual spending, $750 million of which is duplicative.
    People and communities thrive when positioned well for regional growth and economic development, and it’s clear from the current disparities in our outcomes that a new approach is necessary. Better Together’s vision presents a viable and rational path to unite St. Louis City and County in a way that preserves the unique personalities of our communities, while creating a regional authority that provides a united approach to addressing regional opportunities, inequities and concerns.
    By standing together to support reunification, we are committing the time, energy and resources of the business community to actively support Better Together Campaign Chairman Mark Wrighton in leading the efforts to fix the fragmentation that is slowly crippling our region and lead us on the journey toward a stronger future.
    As business leaders, we believe so strongly in our responsibility to unite the region that, on Jan. 31, Civic Progress, the Regional Chamber and the Regional Business Council announced the launch of the St. Louis Economic Development Alliance, a world-class private sector economic development effort that will attract and retain businesses, jobs and top talent for the entire St. Louis region. Supported by more than $4 million a year in private sector funding, our goal is to create a world-class economic development organization that brings the business community together to act and speak with one voice in telling the amazing story of St. Louis and that works collaboratively with state and local organizations to move the region forward — faster and better than ever before.
    Why create the Alliance now? With national and international competition for jobs becoming more and more intense, the St. Louis region needs to grow faster than we are today, and we simply can’t do it if we don’t unite. Currently, it’s confusing and off-putting for any business wanting to enter our market. A business can need up to 90 licenses to operate throughout the region, and that means businesses will look elsewhere.
    If we’re serious about growing the St. Louis region, and bringing in more businesses and talent, we need a committed approach with everyone from Missouri to Illinois, from family-owned businesses to publicly traded companies, from minority-owned to international businesses, and so much more — this will take all of us working as one. And just as the Alliance positions our region with a united vision for business and job growth, we believe Better Together’s vision will do so as well.
    We encourage everyone to learn more about the Better Together recommendations and join us in rallying the courage and confidence to change.
    By changing the dynamic between St. Louis City and County, we can reimagine the future and create a region that is united, prosperous, and growing — a healthy and happy place where people want to raise a family, grow a business, and stay for generations to come.
    Let’s do this together.
    Suzanne Sitherwood is board chair of Civic Progress and board chair of St. Louis Regional Economic Development Alliance.
    Tom Minogue is board chair of the St. Louis Regional Chamber. Together, they wrote this column at the request of the Illinois Business Journal.

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