Alex David

“What’s happened to me is amazing,” Alex says. “And no one is more amazed by it than I am.”

Alex David

Alex David lived on Central Park West in New York City, wore expensive, custom-tailored suits, and thought of himself as the quintessential Wall Street banker. So when his employer, Wells Fargo Advisors, asked him in 2008 to move to St. Louis, his reaction was, “Are you sure I can’t do this job from New York City?”

Alex – although he has doctorates in both economics and marketing from New York’s Pace University, “Dr. David” seems too formal – eventually assented to the move.  But he did so with the intention of making his stay a limited one.

Now, half a decade later, this self-described “Wall Street New Yorker guy” has not only adapted to his new home, he has become a one-man recruiting operation for it. His retired brother has already moved here, also from New York.  His sister is considering it. And his fiancé, he says, is making plans to join him from Charlotte, N.C.

“What’s happened to me is amazing,” Alex says. “And no one is more amazed by it than I am.”

One reason for his transformation, Alex says, is economic.  The cost of living in St. Louis, and especially the cost of housing, is so much lower than it is in high-cost cities that he feels like a wealthy man here.

In New York, Alex lived in a small apartment – less than 900 square feet.  In St. Louis, he lives in a 5,000 square foot, two-floor downtown loft – for the same price. 

From that loft, he can walk to Busch Stadium to see the Cardinals, walk to the Edward Jones Dome to see the Rams, walk to the movies, and walk to dozens of restaurants and clubs. “I didn’t think my quality of life would be as it is now,” he says.  “But it is remarkable, and I love it, love it, love it.”

 Alex also loves the lack of hassle he encounters in living here.  In New York, a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles started with a 20-25 minute wait in line to be told which of the other lines to stand in, he says. The whole business took a couple of hours. Here he’s in and out in a half hour or less.

That’s emblematic, he says, of the whole experience of living – and working – in St. Louis. Not only is it less expensive, but it also facilitates greater productivity.

Those are some of the same reasons that banks like Wells Fargo have been adding so many jobs in St. Louis in recent years.  As The Wall Street Journal has reported, employment in the securities firms has been declining in high-cost cities like New York since the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Chief among the beneficiaries has been St. Louis, where “securities-industry employment surged 85% between January 2007 and September 2012 to a recent 12,190, according to figures compiled by Moody’s Analytics.”

But Alex’s critique of St. Louis is not all about economics and convenience. He also enjoys the Midwestern friendliness and calm of the place.  And those qualities, he notes, also translate into a business advantage. 

Alex manages the eastern half of the country for Wells Fargo Advisers Financial Network, a broker-dealer that provides working capital and brokerage services to financial advisers who want to set up their own firms.  When these advisers call the firm for help, they end up dealing with people based in St. Louis.  “There’s a sense of service here that’s very, very high,” he says. “Nobody gets dissed.”

Finally, Alex says, he loves the feeling of community engagement he has here.   Not long after he arrived, his company placed him in Focus St. Louis, a program that exposed him to the issues the community faces and introduced him to a network of professionals.  Alex has gotten involved in several community projects since then and is particularly active as a Jehovah’s Witness.

“I can make more of a difference here than I can in New York,” he says.  “It’s a great feeling.”