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Monday, September 18, 2006


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.


Doug Duckworth said...

I do not plan on leaving St. Louis because much is to be done. You raise the issue of the old guard, private/public partnerships, and public subsidy of corporations as incentive to remain in the City Limits.

The old guard, as they are actually old, will not be in power forever. Eventually progressive candidates will enter office. The ones who remain can be educated and pressured by the public to change their policies. My only concern is that this timeframe could be long and they will be successful in leaving their mark.

The issue of private-public partnerships is one I am currently discussing. While they do operate as "shadow governments," since they influence public decisions yet are not subject to scrutiny, some believe this is better as they are more efficient. While the public would like to give their opinion on development issues, often business leaders believe they know what is best. Private-Public partnerships must exist in order for economic development to occur, yet their structure of such partnerships is subject to debate. Should the public guide development or should it cater to the private sectors wishes?

The issue of subsidizing the residency of corporations is simply a reality. Governments feel they must do this as everyone seems to be engaging in this practice. While taxes often are not the biggest factor, as the job market, infrastructure, and quality of life is primary, taxes are a factor when comparing two similar geographic regions. In a competitive environment these subsidies will continue until the City can truly offer a dissimilar environment to the County. Most employees see benefits to City living, yet the contrast is often shadowed by the horrible SLPS. St. Louis must continue to urbanize while making drastic improvements to the SLPS.

Along with further urbanization and educational improvements I would say that this environment must be cultural, artistic, and leisure based as these are a huge draw for employees. Employees want these as they offer entertainment and education thus stress relief. If we can offer these hugely important perks, while offering unique housing and a viable public school district, then the subsidy will not be a factor. If St. Louis can transform itself to a level above the rest then it will no longer need to offer subsidy. Our Quality of Life will be the draw and employees will demand the City thus employers will deliver.

Tom Duda said...

Last time I did a reality check, "subsidizing the residency of corporations" didn't really get us all that much.

A provocative read:

The Great American Jobs Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation
by Greg LeRoy