The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) decision to build its new West Campus (N2W) in St. Louis prompted unprecedented collaboration across the city, leveraging the region’s geospatial strength to attract new businesses, new talent, and industry thought leaders. The GeoFutures Initiative, launched in October 2019 to bolster the city’s rapidly growing geospatial sector, released a strategic plan detailing how St. Louis could turn into the geospatial global hub over the next 10 years.
Members of the GeoFutures Initiative team, along with esteemed community colleagues, discussed how the strategic plan was derived, the findings, and the next steps during a recent USGIF GEOConnect Series Virtual Main Stage event.
The Strategic Plan
“St. Louis is really well-positioned to become a global hub for geospatial activity in the next five years,” said Andy Dearing, project lead of the GeoFutures Initiative and co-chair of USGIF’s St. Louis Area Working Group. “What we’ve done in this report is, most importantly, embedding racial equity and inclusion at its core, beginning with the prioritization of authentic community engagement and participation as a key measure for shared success.”
The strategic plan outlines how St. Louis could gain a competitive advantage in geospatial technologies by focusing on four industry sectors: national security; digital/precision agriculture; transportation and logistics; and health care delivery.
“These sectors are already driving growth in our regional economy. We can build those connections that leverage or combine our strength and create benefit for everyone in the community,” Dearing said.
To get there, the strategic plan identifies five overarching priorities:
- Scale up talent and workforce development to meet geospatial industry demand.
- Raise innovation capacity for advanced applications for leading industry and community development drivers.
- Accelerate entrepreneurship and availability of risk capital.
- Support the advancement of community-driven development in the neighborhoods north of downtown St. Louis where the new NGA West campus will soon call home.
- Brand and position St. Louis as a national thought leader in geospatial technology.
“This is a real opportunity to show what equitable growth can look like, when an industry decides to commit to a place,” said Dara Eskridge, executive director, InvestSTL.
The strategic plan also calls for three signature initiatives and three collaborative program activities. The first signature initiative is the GeoFutures Coalition, which will serve as the lead initiative or umbrella organization for all geospatial activities.
“This coalition will oversee the implementation of the strategic plan and ensure a sustained commitment to racial equity and inclusive growth across all activities,” said Dearing.
The second is the GeoFutures Talent initiative, which will support and deepen ongoing K-16 and adult workforce education efforts targeted to underrepresented communities. And the last initiative is the GeoFutures Innovation Collaborative, which will promote entrepreneurship, research, development, and commercialization of geospatial applications.
The three Collaborative Program activities are targeted toward specific opportunities needed to advance the broader St. Louis community:
- Establish a Black Professional Tech Entrepreneurship program to cultivate relationships with Black Professional IT associations and engineering professionals and leverage the presence of existing entrepreneurial development.
- Create an affiliated matching fund for geospatial venture investments which will focus on helping St. Louis Geospatial companies qualify for matching investments that can be used to leverage funding from other sources of capital.
- Support the community-driven development efforts in the neighborhoods where NGA is building its new N2W campus.
“[But] the opportunities aren’t just about residents in the neighborhoods getting careers in geospatial, which is important and wonderful,” said Eskridge. “Because there is a big economy that’s coming in, and there are going to be so many needs, some unrelated to geospatial, we want to make sure that the residents are positioned to be able to provide those amenities and own those businesses and have multiple paths for wealth building.”
St. Louis is putting geospatial on the map in a very big way. The city has well positioned itself to become the global hub for geospatial activity. The city is home to 40 world-class research universities and colleges that produce cutting-edge geospatial research education and bold geospatial industry leaders and entrepreneurs generating thousands of jobs and creating huge economic impact for the region. The St. Louis geospatial industry currently supports 27,000 jobs and has had a total economic impact of nearly $5 billion. Major industry leaders, such as Maxar, have committed to establishing their presence in the city.
“What’s really exciting is that there’s already this critical mass of talent in St. Louis,” said Tony Frasier, executive vice president of Global Operations, Maxar. There’s the historical skill sets around cartography and image science, but also a great basis in emerging areas like software development and data science. So, as we look at how we expand our footprint, we are committed to establishing a presence [in the city]. I’m excited about developing enduring relationships both at the university level, but also in outreach. And to help close the gap in areas where we can drive economic development for those that need it.”
For small business entrepreneurs like Sekhar Prabhakar, CEO, CEdge Software Consultants, co-chair of USGIF’s Small Business Advisory Working Group and co-chair of USGIF’s St. Louis Area Working Group, having companies like Maxar come to the area allows partnerships between small and large business.
“Large organizations do a lot of work to get business. So, it is really good to piggyback on some of those opportunities,” said Prabhakar. “This platform here in St. Louis is providing networking for all the small businesses.”
The GeoFutures plan is one piece of a much larger city-backed initiative to bring economic equality and growth to St. Louis, said Otis Williams, executive director, St. Louis Development Corporation.
“We’re committed to the growth and we’re committed to working with our stakeholders to ensure that they’re successful,” said Williams. “We’re working with our neighborhoods to ensure that they’re included in this entire process, that they benefit from transforming the neighborhood around the new campus.”
Featured Image: illustration of NGA N2W | Photo Credit: NGA