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Job fair for NGA

FILE PHOTO -- A job fair for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in the T-Rex building in downtown St. Louis on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. Photo by Cristina M. Fletes, cfletes@post-dispatch.com.

A group of business, academic and civic leaders has formed a task force focused on promoting geospatial jobs and training as a strategic strength for the region’s economy.

The group, which has dubbed itself GeoFutures, plans to produce a report within the next five months laying out actions the area’s education institutions, governments and businesses can take to promote geospatial employment.

Andy Dearing, who will lead the group’s day-to-day activities, likened the effort to the actions St. Louis took 20 years ago with biotech and plant sciences that laid the groundwork for the Cortex tech district and Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, both of which support strategic industry clusters for the region. Dearing said the report will determine whether an effort similar to BioSTL, a nonprofit with a staff that promotes the local biotech industry, should be established for the region’s geospatial sector.

The effort now is volunteer-based, said Dearing, the former CEO of the geospatial firm Boundless who now heads his own consulting company. Boundless was acquired by San Francisco-based Planet in December.

Dearing said the group hopes to have a report ready to present at the St. Louis University-hosted Georesolution conference in March.

The effort comes as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency prepares to break ground on its new western headquarters north of downtown. The intelligence agency has also indicated it hopes to be far more collaborative with the private sector and educational institutions in coming years to harness new technology and hire talent. The new NGA headquarters is expected to have systems and declassified areas to allow for that interaction.

“We have the pieces here for something special and just need to develop the plan for how to put them all together,” said Otis Williams, executive director of the city’s development agency. “That’s why the GeoFutures Initiative is so important.”

Letitia “Tish” Long and Robert Cardillo, who served as directors of NGA from 2010-2014 and 2014-2019, respectively, will also help with the effort. The local advisory committee includes representatives from Washington University, St. Louis University, University of Missouri-St. Louis, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, St. Louis Public Schools, Cortex, LaunchCode, Boeing, Enterprise Holdings, Arch Grants and Cultivation Capital.