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Nicklaus: In one year, St. Louis has made progress toward geospatial goals

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David Nicklaus is a business columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

St. Louis is sometimes called the City of Plans, the implication being that local leaders spend more time dreaming than acting.

That’s not the case with GeoFutures, a report that outlined how to make St. Louis a leading center for location data science, sometimes known as geospatial technology. In the year since GeoFutures was published, a series of corporate and institutional moves have helped pull together capital, talent and other support for the rapidly growing industry.

Arch Grants has set aside funding for location-data entrepreneurs, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and Missouri Technology Corp. have launched an accelerator program for geospatial startups. According to a securities filing, Cultivation Capital is raising a $50 million geospatial-focused venture capital fund.

Meanwhile, local educators have partnered with industry-leading employers to make sure they can find workers. Both the NGA and Colorado-based Maxar Technologies forged relationships with Harris-Stowe State University to build a talent pipeline.

Add to that a growing support network at the downtown T-Rex building, which has attracted the NGA’s Moonshot Labs and a University of Missouri St. Louis outpost devoted to geospatial technology. T-Rex has an entire floor devoted to geospatial firms.

To make sure the year-old industry roadmap gets implemented and updated, a formal GeoFutures Coalition will operate under the umbrella of Greater St. Louis Inc. It held its first meeting Wednesday.

“GeoFutures is not a plan that sits on the shelf,” said Jason Hall, Greater St. Louis Inc. chief executive. “The community is moving it down the football field at a very rapid rate.”

The GeoFutures report’s first strategic priority, for example, was talent development. It noted that “the St. Louis region has a largely untapped talent resource in its Black and disinvested communities which must be leveraged.”

Leidos’ partnership with Gateway Global is one effort to close that talent gap. The organization trains high school students and recent graduates in geospatial and other technology skills, and expects to place its first group in jobs or apprenticeships this fall.

Zekita Armstrong Asuquo, Gateway Global’s president, said her trainees typically wouldn’t have considered a technology career if not for the program. “Most of the students who come to us don’t even know the word ‘geospatial’ until they meet us,” she said. “The students are very capable, and we catch them before they end up working at Walmart.”

Another goal in the GeoFutures study was to position St. Louis as a center of thought leadership and innovation. A new academic program at St. Louis University should help with that, and the region’s profile will get a boost when GeoInt, the geospatial industry’s largest annual gathering, comes to town in October.

The event also is booked in St. Louis for 2023 and 2025, ensuring that industry leaders will get regular updates on the region’s progress.

For now, the GeoFutures effort still has plenty of unfinished business. Near the top of the list is the goal of spurring development near the NGA’s new north St. Louis campus. Task force members talk of possibly attracting federal funds for a research center that could be the geospatial equivalent of the Danforth Plant Science Center.

Regardless of whether that happens, Hall pledges that north St. Louis won’t be forgotten. “We can’t lose sight of the neighborhood into which NGA is moving,” he said. “We cannot leave behind the existing residents in that neighborhood.”


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David Nicklaus is a business columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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The STL GeoFutures plan is intended to guide regional economic development efforts around the geospatial industry, seen as an employment secto…

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