Let the bidding wars begin: Missouri and Illinois are throwing around incentives for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s new western headquarters like Shriners with bags of Tootie Frooties.
On Friday Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, U.S. Sens. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin, U.S. Reps. Mike Bost and John Shimkus as well as county leaders gathered at MidAmerica Airport to speak privately with NGA Director Robert Cardillo. Then all that gathered political muscle spoke about the nearly 400 acres of free land next to Scott Air Force Base, the state investing $116 million in a new interstate interchange and associated road work that is already well underway, plus plans to bring MetroLink to the NGA site.
All that investment is atop the mission logic of putting NGA next to its biggest customers headquartered at Scott, the security provided by the base, the terror-resistant buffer zone offered by all that land and securing communications by extending NGA’s data cable a few hundred yards instead of more than 20 miles from St. Louis.
Rauner said Cardillo was especially interested in the potential for a partnership with the University of Illinois and all of its top-tier computer science and computer engineering graduates. Add to that the already solid workforce of military retirees and defense contractors, and the hiring pool here is exceptional as those 3,100 initial NGA jobs are expected to potentially double.
That future growth will need more than 99 acres, especially if associated businesses are attracted to the site. If you really look at what is best for the region, that would be helping NGA fulfill its maximum growth potential so payroll dollars for 6,200 workers instead of 3,100 go flowing back into the greater region’s economy.
So late to the party, again, came the Missouri leaders. On Monday they gathered to finally say they weren’t going to charge the feds $130 million for those burned-out shells in North St. Louis, they decided the land is now free.
Ooh-ooh, and their offer is worth $190 million — that’s more than the $116 million Illinois offered.
The best arguments for the North St. Louis NGA site have nothing to do with NGA’s mission, and everything to do with poor, pitiful St. Louis. Wah: We lost the Rams. Wah: We’ll lose $2.4 million a year in NGA payroll taxes, which are likely unconstitutional and may go away soon regardless. Wah: The feds built Pruitt-Igoe housing complex, demolished in the 1970s, and they owe us something good on the site of that failed experiment. Wah-wah-wah: The ashes of Ferguson that litter North St. Louis aren’t our fault. Decades of city public service neglect and economic isolation is a federal problem.
Do you really trust someone who figures out the project in the 11th hour and rushes through a patchwork of incentives? Stan Kroenke didn’t.
Cardillo shouldn’t, either.