Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released its latest population estimates for the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. The St. Louis region grew, but our rate of growth was slower than those in other metro regions like Denver, Tampa, Fla., and even Baltimore. As a result, we dropped from 20th to the 21st-largest metropolitan region. But let’s be clear: We are doing well in a lot of areas. This story is not about urban vs. rural, this suburb vs. that suburb.
Every metropolitan region across the country is competing for people, jobs and economic opportunities. But what this news should do is inspire us, as business and civic leaders, to work together more effectively to market the St. Louis region and bring more jobs and talented people to our region.
We do have a lot of momentum on which to build. Over the past month, we beat out Kansas City, Milwaukee and Louisville, Ky., to win more than 2,200 new jobs with companies like Amazon, Cenlar and Grove Collaborative. Our startup businesses continue to grow and thrive, and we have more opportunities to encourage expansion. In this month alone, St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce staff have met with site selection consultants in Dallas and Cincinnati, and we are soon heading to Cleveland and Chicago. We hosted the consul general of India, who is committed to encouraging Indian companies to locate here in St. Louis. People, jobs and companies are moving to and interested in moving to St. Louis, but the more economic opportunities we can provide — in terms of jobs and a talented workforce — the more likely we can grow at a faster rate.
The core mission of the St. Louis Regional Chamber is regional economic development. That means when a business is wanting to relocate its business, we look at all corners of the region — city of St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Madison County, St. Clair County and beyond. Each area has unique assets, and combining our strengths creates a region that is very competitive. Companies and site selection consultants tell us they love St. Louis’ educational opportunities and our strong talent in biosciences, financial sectors, health care, and logistics and advanced manufacturing. They appreciate our friendly business climate. And as many of us know, they cite affordability as a major selling point.
According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, we rank No. 7 in the country for adjusted real personal income per capita, 12 percent higher than the national average. That means a dollar goes further in St. Louis than almost anywhere else. The 2017 ACCRA Cost of Living Index indicates that our region’s composite index ranks at 90.6, where 100 is the average for the country. Affordability, educational opportunities and key industries are reasons why companies choose to do business in St. Louis. And we think many more will, especially as the chamber and community partners continue to work with regional educational partners and employers to grow and develop our workforce.
It is important that we in the business and civic community work together to attract new people to St. Louis. Young professionals, immigrants and companies want affordable housing and commercial space to help their growing families and businesses. We should target the coastal cities to highlight our lower cost of living and housing and our other regional assets. We still have real challenges and perceptions to address, but we also need to get out there and tout our strengths.
Ultimately, people and businesses are looking for economic opportunities. That is how St. Louis will grow. We must continue to work together to bring more jobs, build our workforce, and attract talented and innovative people. We also must support people and organizations that make St. Louis a better place to live. This is our call to action. We at the chamber will continue to work hard and collaborate with our partners in both Illinois and Missouri to market the region around the country and across the world. St. Louis has many assets, we are open for business, and it is time we assert the story of our region’s benefits.
Tom Chulick is president and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce.