Key components of GeoFutures Strategic Roadmap include:
- Establishing the GeoFutures Coalition to oversee region’s geospatial activities
- Scaling up of geospatial talent and workforce development
- Focusing on racial equity and community driven wealth-building efforts
- Strengthening St. Louis’ geospatial technology innovation capacity
ST. LOUIS – Building on an already strong asset base, St. Louis’ geospatial sector now has a formal strategic roadmap, known as GeoFutures, to strengthen the metropolitan area as the global center of geospatial excellence over the next 10 years.
“St. Louis enters the new decade with a growing sense of confidence, optimism and growth for the future, and the ambition to make St. Louis the global center of geospatial excellence is a big part of our renewed civic energy,” said Jason Hall, Co-Founder and CEO, Arch to Park, and member of the GeoFutures Initiative Advisory Committee. “GeoFutures represents a bold and shared vision for how we can create more jobs and opportunities in St. Louis through focused investments, long-term thinking, and a collaborative approach.”
Hall added that St. Louis saw the power of this approach first-hand under the visionary leadership of Dr. Bill Danforth and others to strengthen the region as a global leader in the “ag-tech” and biotech sectors. “We now have an equally transformative opportunity for global excellence in geospatial and location technology over the next decade,” Hall said.
The geospatial industry in St. Louis is anchored by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency West headquarters. The NGA is investing $1.7 billion to construct a state-of-the-art Next NGA West campus, commonly known as “N2W,” on a 97-acre site just north of Downtown St. Louis. The new headquarters is expected to be fully operational in 2025.
In 2019, leaders within the St. Louis economic development community commissioned TEConomy Partners to conduct an analysis of the scope and economic impact of the geospatial industry in the region today. Among other findings, TEConomy’s analysis concluded that the St. Louis geospatial industry supports 27,000 direct and indirect jobs, includes over 350 companies and organizations, and produces a nearly $5 billion economic impact. The region’s universities conduct nearly $39 million annually in research involving geospatial-related fields and have generated more than 1,300 geospatial research publications in recent years. Major St. Louis-based companies, including Bayer Crop Science, Enterprise Holdings, Boeing, and others, are already making major investments in geospatial technologies in national security, digital/precision agriculture, transportation and logistics, and health care delivery.
Developed under the guidance of industry leaders and through a process of extensive stakeholder engagement, the GeoFutures Strategic Roadmap lays out a coordinated and strategic approach to leverage the existing strengths and generate greater prosperity in the community.
Focus on Racial Equity
The St. Louis region has seen significant growth across several of its industry sectors in recent years, but the benefits of that growth haven’t been shared by all, specifically the region’s Black residents.
The construction of the new NGA West headquarters north of Downtown St. Louis has the potential to serve not only as a catalyst for the expansion of the geospatial sector in St. Louis, but also as an opportunity to create a new path for growth in the St. Louis region, a path that is transformative for those who have been left behind in the region’s economic success thus far.
Building on the recommendations of the Ferguson Commission Report, the GeoFutures Strategic Roadmap elevates and intentionally centers racial equity with the goal of using geospatial technology and the growth of the geospatial sector to promote equity and inclusion.
“We have a plan to place the trajectory of an entire industry sector, from the beginning, on a path that honors, includes, and advances the community in which the industry is taking root; a plan to begin addressing the long-standing exclusion of Black neighborhoods from growth and prosperity in St. Louis,” said Dara Eskridge, Executive Director, Invest STL -- an initiative committed to prioritizing equitable, resident-driven development of our region’s neighborhoods -- and member of the GeoFutures Initiative Advisory Committee. “It’s a chance to show our region and the rest of the country the right way to mobilize and support the existing community members in directing and capitalizing on a potentially multigenerational economic opportunity.”
The GeoFutures Strategic Roadmap lays out a detailed pathway by which St. Louis can strengthen its position as the geospatial center of excellence over the next 10 years. The roadmap notes that St. Louis could gain a competitive advantage in geospatial technologies by focusing on four industry sectors: national security, digital/precision agriculture, transportation and logistics, and health care delivery.
“We need everyone and every institution in St. Louis to take a hard look at this roadmap so that we can align our collective efforts and investments so that we can achieve a goal that no one can achieve alone,” said Andy Dearing, President, Spatial STL Advisors, and GeoFutures Initiative Project Lead. “These industry sectors already have a strong foothold in St. Louis and are pioneering new geospatial applications. We will build on this foundation over the next 10 years to make St. Louis the global geospatial epicenter.”
To get there, the roadmap outlines five strategic priority areas, three signature initiatives, and three collaborative program activities. The five strategic priorities are to:
- Scale up talent and workforce development to meet geospatial industry demand.
- Raise innovation capacity for advanced applications for leading industry and community development drivers.
- Accelerate entrepreneurship and availability of risk capital.
- Support the advancement of community-driven development in the neighborhoods north of Downtown the new NGA West campus will soon call home.
- Brand and position St. Louis as a global thought leader in geospatial technology.
The signature initiatives and collaborative program activities help advance the priority areas. The signature initiatives are:
- The GeoFutures Coalition, which will serve as the lead initiative and umbrella organization for all geospatial activities. This coalition will oversee the implementation of the Strategic Roadmap and ensure a sustained commitment to racial equity and inclusive growth across all roadmap activities.
- The GeoFutures Talent Initiative, which will support and deepen ongoing K-16 and adult workforce geospatial-related technical education provider efforts, with a particular focus on under-represented communities.
- The GeoFutures Innovation Collaborative, which will promote entrepreneurship, research, development, and commercialization of geospatial applications.
The collaborative program activities are more targeted to address specific opportunities and gaps that need to be advanced in partnership with the broader St. Louis community, including:
- Establishing a Black professional tech entrepreneurship program that cultivates relationships with Black professional IT associations and engineering professionals and leverages the presence of existing entrepreneurial development activities.
- An affiliated matching fund for geospatial venture investments to facilitate and enhance the ability of existing venture funding sources by focusing on helping St. Louis geospatial companies qualify for matching investments that can be used to leverage funding from other sources of capital, including from outside of St. Louis.
- Support for community-driven development efforts in the neighborhoods north of Downtown in which NGA is building its new West headquarters. This will be done in concert with the continued efforts of Project Connect and in alignment with the City’s soon-to-be-released Equitable Economic Development Framework with the goal of promoting broader community wealth-generation activities to grow incomes and assets of neighborhood residents by enhancing access to capital, promoting entrepreneurship, and creating new paths for home ownership.
What Is Geospatial?
“Geospatial” refers to the assembly and analysis of data that is associated with location for better situational awareness and decision making. Geospatial technologies and applications have been unleashed and are becoming a common fabric in daily life. Applications using locational data are now ubiquitous on smart phones, helping people make decisions from how to drive to where to eat, all in real time. For industry, geospatial technologies are redefining how businesses operate, with locational data now being a key component in how companies market their products and services, support customers, manage supply chains, and ultimately grow their businesses.
Globally, the geospatial market is large and growing fast, and competition for jobs and investment will be heavy. The research firm MarketsandMarkets estimates the global geospatial market at $239.1 billion in 2019 and growing to $502.6 billion by 2024, a 13.2 percent compound annual growth rate over that five-year period. Underscoring the globally competitive nature of this industry, the United Kingdom recently issued a national geospatial strategy to guide its policy and investments in the sector from 2020 to 2025.
The GeoFutures Initiative
The GeoFutures Initiative was launched in October 2019 to bolster the St. Louis region’s rapidly growing geospatial sector and develop a strategic plan for the future. The effort was guided by an advisory committee that features a broad and diverse group of nearly 30 leaders from the region’s public, business, civic, and academic sectors.
Andy Dearing, a successful geospatial entrepreneur and president of Spatial STL Advisors, served as Project Lead. Two former NGA Directors and globally recognized geospatial industry experts, Hon. Robert Cardillo and Hon. Letitia “Tish” Long, served as strategic advisers to the Initiative. TEConomy Partners -- a global leader in research, analysis, and strategy for innovation-driven economic development -- prepared the GeoFutures Strategic Roadmap.
The GeoFutures Strategic Roadmap leverages existing momentum within the St. Louis region. Examples of recent efforts to build the geospatial industry in St. Louis include:
- In its first year of operation, AllianceSTL led a major St. Louis brand-awareness and business-recruitment effort at the global GEOINT 2019 Symposium under the banner “The Future of Geospatial is #STLMade.” GEOINT is one of the largest gatherings of geospatial industry leaders and policymakers in the world. St. Louis will host the GEOINT Symposium for the first time in 2023 and again in 2025.
- Maryville University recently announced the addition of geospatial technology to its curriculum in the Simon School of Business, under the leadership of Assistant Dean Stacy Hollins, a member of the GeoFutures Initiative Advisory Committee.
- Saint Louis University (SLU) recently established a new Geospatial Institute, also known as GeoSLU, to accelerate research, training, and innovation in geospatial science and technology. GeoSLU Associate Directors Enbal Shacham and Ness Sandoval have been heavily involved in the region’s response to COVID-19, including research and development of an application to help track the spread of the disease.
- SLU also partnered with NGA to launch GeoResolution, an annual thought-leadership conference, to bring together geospatial industry leaders, policymakers, and innovators.
- Innovation hub T-Rex recently launched Geosaurus, a first-of-its-kind geospatial innovation center that occupies nearly 16,000 square feet in downtown St. Louis.
- The Cortex Innovation Community has announced plans to establish a geospatial consortium to help advance the growth of the geospatial industry in St. Louis.
- Arch Grants, which provides $50,000 equity-free grants and pro bono support services to entrepreneurs who locate early-stage businesses in St. Louis, is awarding five additional grants each year specifically to geospatial startups.
The full GeoFutures plan and executive summary can be downloaded at STLGeoFutures.com.
Tony Wyche, Soapbox Public Relations
St. Louis Development Corporation