As a follow up to my August 9 post, "Young Smart St. Louisans: Where Do They Go?":
Many of my friends talk about having to leave town or at least work in the suburbs to get started in their career field before they turn 40. These are creative people who generate a lot of cultural capital for the city and who proselytize on behalf of city living in St. Louis. If one of them moves, there may be three or four people left behind who moved to St. Louis from the suburbs or another city with persistent needling from the person headed out of town. Their concerns are met with a cold shoulder from the old guard who hold public offices, board of directors slots and corporate and nonprofit management positions, who remain set in the ways that knocked St. Louis from one of the nation's top ten largest cities to number 52.
Corporations like the St. Louis Cardinals and AT&T frequently complain about how they have to consider leaving town to fully realize their growth. Their concerns are met with a mad dash by politicians and civic "leaders" to arrange for public subsidy and a guilt-trip for the general public who are not supportive enough. While these companies sometimes create jobs, their primary purpose is to create profits. Their contributions to the region's economy are measurable, but their presence doesn't often attract the people who make St. Louis a fun place to live.
I'm not suggesting that St. Louis could survive as a big city without major companies located in the city. I am suggesting that we will never grow until we work to retain the smart young people who are seeking to invest in the city's future. The response of the civic elite to the possible drain of both people and companies is telling: they value economic wealth over cultural wealth. (No wonder why we have civic monuments as ugly as the Edward Jones Dome and why reopening Kiel Opera House was never a pressing civic goal until a developer stepped in to spearhead the effort.)
Things have to change -- for St. Louis' sake. Other cities won't complain if things stay the same here.