Geospatial Growth in St. Louis

USGIF convenes government, industry, academia, and community leaders for two days of discussion, technology demos, and networking in St. Louis


The United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) hosted a series of events in St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 16-18, bringing together representatives from government, industry, and academia to discuss the many opportunities presented by the city’s growing GEOINT industry and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) planned new campus in North St. Louis.

On Oct. 16, USGIF’s Young Professionals Group (YPG) hosted a Tech Talk titled “The Road to Sub-Meter Digital Elevation Modeled Surfaces” at T-REX—a nonprofit technology incubator in downtown St. Louis. Tom Creel, Ph.D., NGA’s SFN Technical Executive, and Scott J. Spaunhorst, chief of NGA’s geosciences division, discussed the future of high-resolution 3D terrain within foundation GEOINT. The talk was followed by a networking reception.

Data Centricity

The following day at T-REX, the Foundation hosted an unclassified Technology Cluster Forum, at which more than 230 attendees viewed several panel discussions, industry flash talks, and a keynote by Justin Poole, NGA’s new deputy director.

Poole said there would be many “promising opportunities for partnerships” with NGA in the coming months as the agency shifts toward a data-centric business model and continues to explore new analytic tradecraft such as high-performance computing and deep learning.

“We’re changing the way we bring in data, and we’re changing the way we use data,” Poole said. “Our traditional way of getting data—collecting pixels across a largely disconnected government system—will no longer meet the needs of our customer moving forward.”

He elaborated that the agency must move from pixels to services, and beyond tasking and collection to “brokering”—finding and acquiring content that agency customers need.

Poole also said the agency will continue to implement structured observation management and object-based production, while embracing high-performance computing and deep learning—all methods to ensure data is sharable, discoverable, and ingestible by analytic models. Poole also emphasized the need for “GEOINT assurance” to safeguard the integrity of pixels, data, algorithms, and the resulting artificial intelligence.

NGA aims to automate 75 percent of its processes to free up analysts to conduct deeper analysis, for which desktop-ready capabilities will be needed to help rapidly visualize and integrate diverse data types.

Regional Innovation

The Technology Cluster Forum featured afternoon panels on St. Louis-based innovation as well as the city’s GEOINT career pipeline.

Patricia Hagen, Ph.D., president and executive director of T-REX, moderated the panel on St.-Louis-based innovation. Hagen pointed to the fact that today’s startup rate for new businesses is roughly half what it was in the 1980s, despite current tech startup trends.

“New job creation comes from new companies, so [entrepreneurship] is really important for cities. … St. Louis is succeeding around entrepreneurship and has been recognized nationally for these efforts,” she said.

Jeff Mazur, executive director of LaunchCode—a nonprofit founded in St. Louis that provides technology jobseekers with accessible education, training, and paid apprenticeship job placement—said the organization has recently moved into the geospatial marketplace and gained new partners such as NGA and Boundless.

LaunchCode is developing a new curriculum around geospatial skills and aims to place 170 people as developers at NGA in the next few years, Mazur said.

The intent is to provide “new people a new pathway to tech jobs” that are going to be available at the Next NGA West (N2W) facility.

Kenneth Olliff, vice president for research at Saint Louis University (SLU), said he was attracted to the university because of the potential that exists in the St. Louis region. Olliff now aims to make SLU the No. 1 Jesuit research university in the country.

“Geospatial is a big thing we’re looking at right now—assets across the entire university such as disaster management, human behavior, robot interaction,” Olliff said. “We want to pull the entire university together to be a one-stop shop for NGA and other industry partners working with geospatial; to mobilize the human capital we have and through partnerships make a real contribution to the region.”

Boundless CEO Andy Dearing, co-chair of USGIF’s St. Louis Area Working Group (SLAWG), moderated the discussion of the city’s career pipeline. Dearing encouraged attendees, especially those who live and work in the St. Louis area, to join the group, which brings together professionals from government, military, industry, academia, and the community to create lasting educational and community pathways to geospatial degrees, certifications, and careers in the St. Louis region.

The Next NGA West

Pollmann and Gum. Credit: NGA

The unclassified day concluded with an update from NGA’s N2W Program Director Sue Pollmann and Scott Gum, the agency’s assistant program manager for information technology.

Pollmann said site clearing in North St. Louis is going well and that her team’s current focus is compiling design-build performance requirements into a request for proposals (RFP). The agency has already down-selected to three design-build teams, who will receive the RFP in January with a final contract award targeted for fall 2018. Pollmann added she hopes “shovels will be in the ground” by spring 2019.

Pollmann and Gum both said NGA aspires for the new facility to have plenty of unclassified space to welcome partners and academia, flexible workspaces that can be quickly converted from unclassified to SCIF, and mobile, wireless capabilities throughout.

“We plan to have a bring-your-own-device capability so you can bring your [mobile] device, have it there, and use it,” Pollmann said. “That’s another pretty big sea change for us. The other piece of flexibility is in how we work. … We know it is important in terms of recruitment and retention. We want to give employees options to go to different areas of the building.”

Scott said his goal is to keep up with changing requirements to ensure employee and user capability needs are met when the new facility opens.

“Whatever IT call is made today isn’t going to stand the test of time in five to seven years,” he said.

The Technology Forum concluded with a networking reception at T-REX.

On Oct. 18, USGIF hosted NGA Tech Showcase West at NGA’s current Second Street facility. The classified day was attended by more than 130 people and featured remarks by Poole, followed by a series of technology demos that provided attendees a first-hand look at the work of analysts in St. Louis. The series of events closed with a reception at the Anheuser-Busch Beer Museum.

To learn more about USGIF’s St. Louis initiatives or to get involved, email the SLAWG at

Featured image: NGA Deputy Director Justin Poole gives a keynote address. Credit: NGA

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