Unfocused St. Louis
Some of my colleagues at the Institute have already weighed in on the shortcomings of a draft report promoting regional growth recently published by Greater St. Louis, Inc., with the support of groups like FOCUS St. Louis and other St. Louis–area stakeholders. The report, STL 2030 JOBS PLAN: Driving a Decade of Inclusive Growth, implies and encourages a robust government role advancing a number of objectives cited as important to the authors.
Without unnecessarily repeating my fellow bloggers, the report is both discouraging and concerning. Local government micromanaging of the economy in a vacuum is bad news anyway, but micromanagement for the purpose of dismantling “systemic racism” and promoting “inclusive growth” exemplifies the preference for buzzwords over substance that has saddled residents of the region with ineffective governance and squandered tax revenue for over a half-century.
We don’t need more jargon to fix St. Louis. We need an actual focus on the problems that have bedeviled it. Two years ago I condensed those problems into an op/ed published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that focused on the three essential issues that confront St. Louis: public safety, its schizophrenic tax policy, and education. Like the authors of the recently released report, local leaders two years ago seemed most concerned about making St. Louis City the cultural and economic pivot point of the region again, but in both cases that amounts to putting the cart before the horse. As I wrote,
The city’s greatest issue isn’t whether it will be the economic center of the region. Its greatest issue, the one that will determine its long-term viability, is whether it will be a competent steward of public money and the public’s trust—whether the city will address the policy questions that ultimately underpin and promote long-term development and population growth. Doing so will require a meticulous commitment to getting the fundamentals of governance right and eschewing the rest.
It’s said that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the next best time is to plant a tree is today. For the sake of its future, now is the right time for St. Louis to address its fundamental and widely recognized issues of governance in a serious and research-driven manner. Until the city gets serious about regaining public trust by getting back to the basics of governance—above all, a full commitment to security, education and the stewardship of the public checkbook—no one should be surprised when more St. Louisans follow their predecessors out the door.
I hesitate to be overly critical of any undertaking that requires significant thought, but the report reads like more of the same from St. Louis’ collective leadership, with little in the way of fresh thinking or, frankly, self-reflection. If the region is going to turn the corner and chart a new prosperous path, local government needs to focus on getting the basics right. Any proposal that would detract from that singular focus by government, especially when advanced by private sector leaders, is unproductive. That is, unfortunately, what I believe this draft of this “jobs plan” is, and I hope that for the sake of the region, it is significantly revised.