BELLEVILLE — The recently appointed leader of the bi-state region's chamber of commerce says education and trust will go hand-in-hand to drive more growth in the metropolitan area.
Joe Reagan, president and chief executive officer of the St. Louis Regional Commerce and Growth Association, spoke before a Wednesday morning meeting of Belleville area business leaders and Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce members at their monthly Issues & Eggs breakfast held in downtown Belleville. He told the local professionals that the metropolitan region needs to speak with a unified voice and develop trust.
"When you have trust, you can do great things," Reagan said. "Without trust, you cannot do great things."
Before arriving on the job early this year, Reagan had worked for 14 years in a similar capacity in Louisville, Ky. He said that is another bi-state metropolitan area that succeeded to drive economic expansion and prosperity on both sides of the Ohio River in Kentucky and Indiana.
"We really started to work together as a region by getting to know each other," he said.
Reagan said the greater St. Louis area also has a great asset with the number of colleges and universities located here. He said he has toured 15 schools on both sides of the river so far and said local chambers need to pay attention to the students at these local institutions because it can lead to a "sure path to economic prosperity."
He said, "Education is an issue that Chambers of Commerce should find common ground on.
"And I can't find a surer path than education," he said. "That doesn't mean that everyone goes to college, but shouldn't we make sure every student is college ready?"
He also pointed to the recent redevelopment and expansion in downtown Belleville. He said maintaining Scott Air Force Base, which generates $2 billion annually for the region's economy, as well as developing and expanding MetroLink, remain major assets in the region.
"Belleville is blessed with a great region," he said. "What I like here is that no matter where I was, people were comfortable saying that, 'We're from St. Louis,' and that's really important."
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert praised Reagan for his call to unite both sides of the river toward economic growth and prosperity. Eckert said that the Mississippi River has been a boundary that has separated the metro-east for the rest of the metro area.
"That really has been a divider over the years," Eckert said. "I really appreciate you efforts."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.