The Gateway City, The ‘Possibility City,’ And Hope For The Future
The guard is changing at Saint Louis’ regional chamber of commerce, the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association (RCGA).
Dick Fleming, the group’s longtime head, is stepping down from the organization he has helmed since 1994, and his replacement will come from a city just a short drive east on I-64: Louisville, Ky., also known as the “Gateway to the South.” Joe Reagan moves to Saint Louis from Louisville’s equivalent of the RCGA, the Greater Louisville Inc., or GLI. Marketed during Reagan’s tenure as “Possibility City,” Louisville will have to find a new chamber head for the first time since 2005. Louisville is already writing the postscript to Reagan’s legacy.
But the fact of the matter is that no man, or government, or organization, or even coalition of organizations, can plan an economy, or at least plan it well. That is an incredibly important point to highlight and probably the fairest thing that can be said as Reagan joins the Saint Louis community; it also is probably one of the most damaging points one can raise about how the RCGA and organizations like it behave.
Our local chamber loves to get the pat on the back for positive economic news and to pump “public-private partnerships,” oftentimes fueled with tax credits, that fail to substantively move the economic needle in the region’s favor. Meddling in the economy, local or national, destroys wealth more often than it creates it, leaving taxpayers with the promise of prosperity but little else. And it is no secret that Saint Louis city has languished for decades under one failed economic plan after another, compounded by the exodus of residents into nearby counties and driven by the continued intransigence of the city’s political class to step away from its cronyistic tendencies. In short, the economic development status quo is not a blueprint for a prosperous future for this region, and has not been for some time.
Which is why I hope that Reagan’s arrival in Saint Louis is not just more of the same. More precisely, I hope that Saint Louis — and Kansas City, and the state of Missouri — at least return to some sense of regional economic normalcy, if not runaway growth in the coming year. That is a Christmas wish of sorts, I suppose, but a wish that the RCGA, GLI, or any similar organization has limited or no power to bring to fruition.
Maybe a New Year’s resolution for the state and the city is in order instead: To simply let the market work. It does not matter if it is Saint Louis’ chamber hawking Aerotropolis, or Moberly’s chamber hawking Mamtek, or a political class increasingly disconnected from the electorate hawking Solyndra. There are no easy, centralized solutions to our economic woes. Acting like there is in Saint Louis only prolongs the municipal pain. Like all taxpayers, Saint Louisans cannot depend on a small group of decision-makers to make their lives better.
Free markets make genuine and sustainable economic growth possible, and if there is going to be a “Possibility City” in this region, let it be more than just another marketing slogan with another cartridge of development silver bullets as its driving force. Reduce taxes and regulation, get out of the way, and let the free market flourish. May RCGA’s new administration regain its faith in that formulation.