So here we are at the endgame on the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency site selection. The St. Louis newspaper and St. Louis leaders are screaming that full-page ads in national newspapers, a campaign on the morning news networks and heavy political pressure must be brought to bear or St. Louis will lose 3,100 NGA jobs to the cornfields of semi-rural St. Clair County.
Maybe the folks at NGA can whip up a map for the St. Louis leaders and newspaper. Maybe that will give them a clue that Scott Air Force Base is a major engine in the greater St. Louis economy with civilian employees from all parts of the region and military retirees leading our businesses and institutions. Maybe they will see that this area is viewed by all as the St. Louis region, the Greater St. Louis Area, the St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area.
And maybe they will see that there’s only a thin blue line of water and a dotted state border separating us. Erase those marks and no one would think this area were anything but the eastern part of a metropolitan region with a long tradition of cooperating on regional issues.
So maybe it’s time to be the Greater St. Louis area instead of the lesser, parochial, it’s-just-about-me St. Louis area.
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This decision is about what’s best for NGA and its mission to give our military the maps and intelligence it needs to carry out its mission. It is about building a facility that can expand. It is about keeping that facility secure from physical attack and from cyber attack. It is about efficiency of dollars and work process.
Putting NGA next to Scott Air Force Base means a vulnerable fiber optic cable reaches for yards across a secure military base instead of nearly 20 miles from a poverty and drug-infested area. Putting it next to Scott means NGA and its two biggest clients are able to talk face-to-face. Putting it next to Scott means two cyber squadrons are close by to protect against the North Koreans and Chinese and some Baltic teen trying to hack in. Putting it next to Scott means there is a steady stream of veteran military and well-educated potential workers and a huge population with ties and sympathies to the military and our defense missions. Putting it in the cornfields means the land is free, with plenty of room for the expected growth and clear lines of sight for the facility’s security.
Put it next to Scott and those 3,100 workers will still spend their money at Busch Stadium and the Galleria and The Hill’s restaurants. Put it next to Scott and those fertile cornfields will allow the workforce to potentially double and draw even more St. Louisans into the workforce, traveling via that other model of regional cooperation — MetroLink.
Put it in North St. Louis and you get at least $130 million in additional expense as you choke potential growth on the land-locked, broken concrete killing fields as you try to crowd out hostile neighbors.
St. Louis and Missouri leaders failed to get their act together until the last minute and lost the Rams. The same last-minute scramble of failed organization and leadership is accompanying their bid to sell North St. Louis as the new home of NGA — a snow job that any objective observer would meet with a quizzical look and silence as they try to figure out the hidden joke.