Proposed North St. Louis site for NGA
Joseph Miller

Saint Louis is trying desperately to keep the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) within city limits. The federal spy agency is looking for more space and is considering options in Saint Louis City, Saint Louis County, and Saint Clair County, Illinois. The sites in Saint Clair County (near Scott Airforce Base) and in North Saint Louis City are considered the strongest contenders.

We’ve talked before about how Saint Louis City’s attitudes toward non-city alternatives for the NGA expose local leadership’s fair-weather regionalism. After all, no matter what happens, NGA jobs are staying in the region and the area’s economy should remain unaffected. But in a bid to “redevelop” a part of North Saint Louis and keep the earnings tax revenue the NGA currently generates, Saint Louis City is preparing to pull out all the stops.

Saint Clair County is offering a low-cost, green field option on the north end of Scott Air Force base to the NGA, with the state of Illinois preparing to throw in $116 million in infrastructure improvements for the site. Saint Louis City’s original offer was a North City site at a cost $14 million, with $120 million in assistance from the state of Missouri. Now, Saint Louis will waive the $14-million cost, which was supposed to recoup the city’s expenses for preparing the site. Such costs will have to be pushed onto Missouri residents. Additionally, not to be outdone by Illinois’s infrastructure improvements, Saint Louis is throwing a MetroLink expansion into the deal as well. Strangely, Saint Louis has not put forward a solid plan for how it would fund a new billion-dollar-plus light rail line.

While city hall’s financial/infrastructure incentives may seem a little half-baked, they’re nothing compared to its rhetoric. Apparently, according to Saint Louis’s leadership, the city should get the NGA because millennials like to live and work downtown, among other lazy generalizations about an entire generation of Americans. One official stated that, “The days when talented young people wanted to commute 25, 35, 45 miles are over.” An interesting statement, because, since millennials have entered the workforce, the percentage of workers commuting longer than 25 minutes has regularly increased while the share of workers commuting less than 15 minutes has decreased:

Chart: Share of workers with commute times 25 min, by year

This is just another example of how the generation dubbed “millennials” is, largely, much like the generations that preceded them in terms of living, working, and commuting. And city hall’s statements appear to be typical of local government officials using generational stereotypes to justify the types of policies they (not millennials themselves) have pursued for decades.

What’s more, even if millennials are everything that Saint Louis City leaders hope they are (and want to live downtown and take public transportation to work), the existing MetroLink already goes to Scott Airforce Base, where the NGA could be. Millennials could, if the Illinois site were chosen, live on Washington Avenue and ride the train to work. That certainly sounds easier than flattening a large section of North Saint Louis and spending billions to expand the MetroLink. Given the fact the city’s plan would turn dozens of families out of their homes, wouldn’t that be a fairer solution as well?

About the Author

Joseph Miller
Joseph Miller was a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute. He focused on infrastructure, transportation, and municipal issues. He grew up in Itasca, Ill., and earned an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a master’s degree from the University of California-San Diego’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.