We were honored to sit down with CEO of Greater St. Louis, Inc., Jason Hall, as he shares his perspective on the progress of our city. Greater St. Louis, Inc. brings together business and civic leaders to create jobs, expand inclusive economic growth and improve St. Louis’ global competitiveness.
Technology Partners’ LIFT is proud to partner with Greater St. Louis, Inc. Read on for our interview.
Jason, what has driven you, personally, to be intensely dedicated to the efforts of Greater St. Louis, Inc?
Hall: St. Louis is my home by birth and by choice. I was born in Granite City, Illinois, and now live in the city of St. Louis. I want to see it be the very best it can be. Much of the energy to see St. Louis thrive comes from being one of the first in my family to graduate from high school and the first to graduate from college. You don’t overcome that alone. People help you; they believe in you. I think that instilled in me a deep sense that when people invest in you to help your life be something bigger than it could’ve been, you want to give back. It’s sense of love of place with a desire to give back, making sure kids with the backgrounds like mine that maybe didn’t have access to a lot have the opportunity to thrive as well.
Where have you seen momentum economically in the Greater St. Louis area?
Hall: We’ve seen tremendous momentum across the region, with a lot of that focused in the central core of the city. Prior to the pandemic, $8 billion was being invested in the urban core of St. Louis. That’s critical, because, as other high-growth metros have recognized, the growth of the metro overall is highly dependent on the strength of the flagship city.
Twenty years ago, leaders like Dr. Bill Danforth and John McDonnell became civic champions to make the St. Louis metro one of the great startup and entrepreneurial centers in the country. We are now two decades into that, and it’s smashingly successful: it changed the identity of the St. Louis. We have places like T-Rex and Cortex and OPO Startups in St. Charles. Companies like Varsity Tutors and Benson Hill Biosystems are billion-dollar companies now. We built that!
Biotech has been a tremendous success. Recently, NBC Nightly News reported that one of the key reasons the country can recover economically from COVID-19 so quickly is because of the vaccine. The first vaccine was delivered by Pfizer and was started in Chesterfield. That highlights our place as a globally significant center of science. I don’t know that we really give ourselves the credit for that. Our brains, our talent, our metro gave us that gift.
Now we’re thinking ahead boldly to be the industry leader in geospatial technology. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is building a new, $2 billion headquarters, and many other, broader commercial, non-governmental opportunities are building around that. Geospatial is being used by our already thriving transportation logistics, national security, and health care sectors, and it’s a technology that will help us grow to become what we can be because of these big investments. Those are some huge opportunities for this metro and some sources of great momentum that give me hope we can be something much bigger.
What are a couple recent successes of our area?
Hall: One major success has been the work to bring major league soccer to St. Louis and, consequently, how that’s regenerating Downtown West. It’s becoming a new place. Soccer is a sport for young people, immigrants–it’s global sport. That’s another example of a big, big win. I think of the way they’re building community around soccer. I’m not the biggest soccer fan in the world, but I still love it.
Another success has been new business recruitment. Just 24 months ago, St. Louis began to recruit new businesses again. Last year, we put up one of the biggest wins in a generation with Accenture Federal Services, creating 1,400 high-tech, high-paying jobs. That was a nationally significant win. Everybody wanted those jobs. We won them on the merits and because we competed. More recently, we worked to secure the global headquarters for growing advertising technology firm Advocado and helped secure a major new investment at MEMC in O’Fallon, Missouri, that will help address the global semiconductor chip shortage.
What is the vision for where we (the St. Louis business community) are going economically?
Hall: We’re global leaders in advanced manufacturing. We produce the most sophisticated aircraft in the planet right now. Further, General Motors made a huge investment in Wentzville. Thousands of jobs were created because of that. The Chevy Colorado, produced here, is the best-selling midsize pick-up truck in the country. We build, manufacture and produce great things.
Related to that, we’re broader leaders in transportation. Enterprise Holdings, started with seven cars, is now the largest transportation provider and largest fleet of vehicles anywhere on the planet. That’s all out of St. Louis. We created that.
We’re also terrific in financial services. Being the headquarters to Edward Jones, Wells Fargo Advisors, and MasterCard Technology–that is exceptional and we’re seeing that now leveraged for the emerging sector of “fintech.” You see companies like Square putting 1,000 jobs in downtown St. Louis. We’re seeing where technology is just affecting everything now. It’s a highly disruptive force and St. Louis is at the cutting edge of that.
We are especially passionate about providing quality career opportunities for top talent. STL 2030 Jobs Plan is one of the eight initiatives of your first year… would you explain this objective and how you’re making progress?
Hall: St. Louis is the only top 20 metropolitan region in the United States in over a decade that has written down, on paper, a jobs plan. Think about it. If you don’t know where you’re headed as a metro–what’s our north star economically–it’s real hard to get there.
Without a north star, you leave a lot to chance. Last year, one group that emerged helped finance bringing Bruce Katz to the metro. Help us develop what we can do to work and drive jobs, racial equity and inclusion in St. Louis. Greater St. Louis, Inc. inherited this January 1 and continued to engage with the public. Thousands of St. Louisans showed up to provide feedback on how to make it better. That’s how much people care about the future.
Bruce delivered the report to use the first week of May and we will mobilize us as a community, resourcing businesses to help make it happen.
How do you intentionally encourage the culture of our city?
Hall: One of the points of feedback we received–from Bruce Katz and other national consultants we’ve worked with–is that St. Louis needs to do a much better job at building trust and relationships across the different civic centers in St. Louis. I just try to live by example. Work hard, communicate openly, and keep my word. Also, shoot it straight with people. I’m a firm believer that you should model the behavior you want. Even when other people let you down, you still lead by example.
Let’s talk about how the average individual can get involved. How do you call St. Louisans to act and unite for this purpose?
Hall: The best thing we can do to tell our story is tell our story. Creating the tools where people see that positive story, they have the tools they need to share what they’re prideful about. Connect that story to another thousand points of light, if you will, of likeminded people (see #STLMADE for more). The more we share and unite over the things we feel positive and good about, the stronger we’ll be. We all can be ambassadors for St. Louis.
Secondly, I love this jobs plan already. Some St. Louisans are already acting on it. A team is working with Express Scripts now to organize an industry-training collaborative for kids coming from underserved high school backgrounds that want to get into the technology sector. I’ve told them, “Keep running, keep running.” Because at least in those, when you start to work on something as a volunteer in the community, it gives you a sense that as you’re working on that and others are as well, there’s going to be a force multiplier. At the end of the day, who cares who gets credit, we just need these things to happen. It’s fun to be on the winning team–it’s motivating. Success begets success. It takes the early movers to say, “I know it doesn’t feel like it today, but that’s where we can go.”
What is something you wish more people knew about Greater St. Louis, Inc?
Hall: This is the beginning. This is the beginning of St. Louis coming together in bold new ways to help this metro reach its full potential and create more jobs for all of us. Ten years from now, you’re going to want to take credit for what we have done together, so get in early and become a founder of this effort. The best thing we can do is to start imagining the possibilities of what could happen.