Opinion: Regional collaboration within St. Louis

By James F. “Jimmy” Loomis, III

The New York Times’ December 16, 2018 article, “Nashville’s Star Rises as Midsize Cities Break Into Winners and Losers,” contrasts the fate of two cities similar in size and population to Saint Louis: Nashville and Birmingham. Of these, Nashville is the clear “winner”: in forty years, its population has doubled, and new firms have flooded the region. Birmingham, meanwhile, has seen steady population decline while education and income gaps have widened. Nashville, “Made smart decisions like merging the city and county government in the 1960s, allowing [it] to work together”, while instead of collaborating, Birmingham often competes with neighboring towns and cities.

Does this story sound familiar? Like Birmingham, Saint Louis’ failure to think and act regionally, combined with our tendency to compete between ourselves, has hindered our ability to compete on a global scale. Geopolitical fragmentation within Saint Louis City and County that promote competition over collaboration are the greatest obstacles to sustained regional growth and are responsible for issues of social and economic inequality. To resolve this, our region must seriously consider restructuring our system of government and its institutions to strengthen cooperation: unified government, consolidation, and municipal reform all represent possible solutions to this issue.

While working at the World Trade Center St. Louis, the regional agency aimed at attracting international investment to our area, I led a case study investigating the relationship between regional collaboration and economic growth that combined interviews with businesses and economic development agencies of successful Midwestern cities with the first empirical test of its kind. We found a clear and direct link between cities that collaborated effectively and stronger, more developed economies: cities like Nashville and Pittsburgh experienced 18% wage growth from 2014-2017, while those that did not, like Saint Louis, grew by 12%.

Our region has all of the ingredients to become a “winner” like Nashville: some of the nation’s lowest cost of living, a bustling startup community, and world-class academic and cultural institutions. As a native Saint Louisan and recent Washington University graduate, I am strongly passionate and optimistic about our future, and believe in our inherent potential as a region if we find the resolve to come together and act as one. The challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century demand it, and I know with visionary leadership our best days are ahead of us.

James Loomis is currently enrolled in a double MSc degree program in International Affairs at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Peking University. He formerly worked as an International Business Development Specialist at the World Trade Center St. Louis and also served in elected office as Clayton Township’s Democratic Committeeman from 2013-2018, where he held the title of Missouri’s youngest elected official for the duration of his term.