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Decision on NGA location has to consider its employees

Decision on NGA location has to consider its employees

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National Geospatial Agency looks to move

Cannonball stacks are found throughout the grounds of the National Geospatial Agency, a nod to the property's history as a Civil War-era arsenal, photographed on Thursday, June 26, 2014. The top secret mapping agency is looking to move from the foot of Arsenal Street, which dates to before the Civil War. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

To be successful, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will need no less than the best and brightest mathematicians, engineers and software experts to be found anywhere in the nation. They have to be U.S. citizens and will have to pass extensive background checks into every aspect of their personal and professional lives. Such people are hard to find.

As a recent transplant from a small Iowa city where I worked for a high-tech Fortune 500 company, I know first hand how difficult it is to attract top employees to a small town, and once hired, to hold onto them. The NGA will be competing with companies such as Apple, Google and others in prime locations such as Silicon Valley, San Diego and Seattle. These companies have big pocketbooks, and most offer rewarding work.

The greater St. Louis area is a vibrant and exciting city where sports, music, theater and other entertainment opportunities abound. It's no wonder that so many young people born here choose to stay here. Young employees may be attracted by a cosmopolitan lifestyle. Employees with families may be attracted to the western suburbs like Chesterfield, Town and Country, and St. Charles with excellent schools and affordable housing.

By contrast, the ability of the NGA to attract such employees to a small town setting in a troubled state may prove to be a daunting task.

I sincerely hope that this reality will not be overlooked in deciding where to locate the NGA facility.

Boyd Nichols  •  St. Charles

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Related to this story

President Barack Obama should need no reminding that he has made a promise to St. Louis. He has pledged priority federal action to revitalize the troubled urban core of St. Louis through his Promise Zones initiative. The most effective way Obama can make good on this promise is to use all his influence to ensure the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency chooses a site on the North Side of St. Louis for its new western headquarters. No other federal, state or local program offers the transformative impact that this siting decision can have.

St. Louis taxpayers might well look askance at the city’s latest offer of free land — a $14 million giveaway — to sweeten the deal for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to keep its western headquarters here instead of moving across the river to St. Clair County. We believe the offer, announced Monday, was a good call.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's ability to perform its secret mission probably won't be significantly affected whether the agency's new $1.6 billion western campus winds up in an Illinois corn field or a struggling north St. Louis neighborhood. But it's clear that critics of the St. Louis proposed site are doing their best to present security and safety concerns as a deal-killer for this city. We state the case for why those critics are wrong.

The cutthroat competition has begun to see whether the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency keeps its western campus and 3,100 jobs in St. Louis or moves across the river to St. Clair County. Last week, just as President Barack Obama was visiting Illinois, that state's entire congressional delegation launched a campaign to lure the NGA to a rural site adjacent to Scott Air Force Base. The time for Missouri's forceful and unrelenting rebuttal is now. 

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