The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has had a facility in St. Louis for decades. But as the agency builds a new campus in North St. Louis, Mo., city and industry leaders have a renewed interest in finding new ways to develop more GEOINT talent in the region.
At GEOINT 2018, a wide variety of stakeholders gathered for a discussion on “Strengthening the St. Louis Workforce,” hosted by USGIF’s St. Louis Area Working Group (SLAWG). The SLAWG was founded in 2017 by a coalition of NGA, industry, city and state leaders, and educational institutions.
“The whole idea is that we identify these needs and we identify the gaps,” said Julie Finn of Kit Bond Strategies. “Our goal is to look at these areas—and it’s not just the state. It’s the private sector, it’s the philanthropic groups, it’s the non-profits, it’s the civic leaders.”
One area SLAWG is focusing on is increasing the GEOINT educational opportunities available to all grade levels in the St. Louis region.
“We have a lot of school districts on both sides of the [Mississippi] River that are realizing what we are trying to do across the board,” said Lisa Williams, the program manager for Partners in Education at NGA West. “They are starting to reach out to us asking for help in figuring out what they can do with curriculum development so their students are more prepared when they get past high school so they’re ready to launch into their college career.”
Williams said NGA is interested in establishing internships for area high school students so they could learn directly from geospatial businesses or NGA itself. Likewise, colleges such as St. Louis University (SLU) are looking to expand their GEOINT offerings.
“As we learn more about the skill sets that are in high demand, this helps us shape our programs,” said Mark Brickhouse, geospatial advisor at the university. “An opportunity like this convention really helps us with … being able to meet with industry, having people come up to us and talk about what they want to hire, who they need. We’re in the process of shaping investments in faculty, staff research, infrastructure, and software.”
Andy Dearing, CEO of Boundless, has chosen to base his company in St. Louis. But small companies don’t have the luxury of spending lots of time and money developing a talented workforce, he said, meaning they need to work closely with their city and its schools.
“We see a lot of great development talent in the region. We see a lot of great geography talent in the region,” Dearing said. “But now … doing that in machine learning and AI and all these other things that you hear about, we’ve got to get a head of that curve.”
“Geography and mapmaking as it used to be is not where it’s going to be going forward,” he continued. “How do we get ahead of that curve? And for organizations like us, we want to develop that talent in St. Louis, to have a hub around that … I think St. Louis is ripe for small businesses, for entrepreneurs.”