• Chamber Announces Policy Agenda for 2016

    Jan 12, 2016

    In December the St. Louis Regional Chamber’s Board of Directors approved updates to the One Plan, the Chamber’s strategic vision for the region.  As part of this update, the Board approved the Chamber’s strategic objective for public policy, which we call our Agenda for Regional Prosperity. 

    With our new plan in place, we will work to unite people to secure our agenda, a people-first, innovation-driven plan for equitable, abundant job creation and economic growth.  We will lead this focused agenda for change based on three core positions derived from our policy point of view – Equity & Opportunity, Safety & Security and Build & Invest.

    Equity and Opportunity

    Job creation and sustainable economic growth flourish with open, inclusive education, markets, and capital formation.  St. Louis will flourish by attracting entrepreneurs, innovative employers and talent and by embracing the demands of both entrepreneurial risk-taking and closing the gaps in economic mobility.  Racial and economic impacts need to be factors in policy decision-making. 

    Public money should focus on community building and improving the fundamentals of community life.  When economic incentives are deployed they should prioritize talent development and capital formation and be based on net new job growth for the bi-state region rather than shifting jobs across government boundaries. The region is need of an overhaul of its economic development toolkit and approach to tax credits and incentives. 

    To further Equity and Opportunity we will:

    • Advocate for policies and practices that will help close the achievement gap in higher education, particularly increasing need-based funding, which we view as being critical to this effort.  As part of this effort we will endorse a Higher Education Act reauthorization that focuses on removing barriers to access and making higher education more affordable to all
    • Champion a Missouri Earned Income Tax Credit bill to help low-income working families overcome the cycle of poverty
    • Drive the Chamber’s accountability and response to the Forward Through Ferguson report’s Calls to Action to advance a racial equity fund, reduce or eliminate unnecessary duplication of public services and offer taxpayers high-quality services at efficient costs
    • Support and expand the use of Individual Development Accounts in Illinois and Missouri, using St. Louis City Treasurer’s College Kids program as a potential project model, to reduce barriers to higher education
    • Advocate for expansion of basic medical coverage to Missouri’s low-income population to eliminate healthcare cost-shifting to employers while calling for reasonable reforms in Missouri HealthNet to reduce fraud, waste and abuse in the state’s Medicaid system
    • Advocate for inclusive employment law reform in Missouri to foster an inclusive business community to attract and retain a highly-skilled workforce
    • Promote policies for global trade, especially those that boost exports from our region and attract foreign direct investment. 
    • Encourage comprehensive immigration reform and support St. Louis Mosaic Project in Welcoming Community programs to attract innovators and ensure employers have access to the best available workers

    Safety and Security

    It is a relevant lesson for us, as we work together to form a more perfect community, to learn from the framers of the U.S. Constitution, whose agenda for change started with “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility.”  People cannot prosper economically when they are worried about their basic safety and civil rights.  Violent crime creates individual tragedies that devastate families, affects our quality of life and makes it difficult to attract and retain the talent that drives the St. Louis economy.  Injustices from inequities spread community hurt and mistrust.

    To ensure our communities are Safe and Secure we will:

    • Work with regional authorities and elected leaders to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to increase public safety in St. Louis; leverage private sector support and funding to enhance law enforcement capabilities where needed
    • Advocate for reforms in Missouri’s Use of Deadly Force statute to bring state law in line with federal standards
    • Support select PERF and Forward Through Ferguson recommendations to improve professional training standards for law enforcement officers and increase public transparency

    Build and Invest

    St. Louis needs significant investment in infrastructure that creates jobs, connects where people live with centers of employment and education and the broader world, ensures employers have ready access to critical utilities and freight networks and continues St. Louis’ legacy of open, high quality civic amenities. We must put our efforts into projects that result in real improvement rather than maintaining the status quo.  Not only will these projects contribute to St. Louis long-term attractiveness, in the near-term they create jobs for people and provide a dramatic opportunity for bringing new workers and enterprises into the economy.  Our needs go well beyond surface transportation, such as roads and bridges; our region needs substantial investment in transit, high-speed rail, utilities, parks and projects needed for a vibrant urban core such as competitive sports, convention, and entertainment venues. 

    Traditional and historic approaches to funding and financing are insufficient to our current reality.  Funding and financing will depend on best and next practices of cost and revenue sharing across government jurisdictions and public-private delivery models. 

    Build and Invest includes:

    • Convene and facilitate stakeholders to define the infrastructure needed. 
    • Create opportunities, content and expertise to support decision-makers as they understand and implement new forms of funding and financing infrastructure. 
    • Champion transformational projects that improve the transportation infrastructure for our entire region, with a particular focus on transit and connecting workers to jobs
    • Work closely with AccelerateSTL and allies across the state to increase state funding for the Missouri Technology Corporation, with the goal of leading the region in per capita investment; strengthen ties with Illinois-based incubators to support similar efforts in Metro East
    • Endorse a sustainable federal Highway Trust Fund and increase Missouri transportation funding to go beyond maintenance levels to allow for needed improvements; lead efforts to educate stakeholders about innovative models of transportation funding
    • Support the implementation of the Regional Freight District action plan to leverage growth in this critical industry sector, including rail, river and air cargo
    • Support real ethics reform in our state capitols, to improve public transparency and increase trust between our elected officials and the citizens they represent
    • Support Scott Air Force Base’s growth and status as a transportation and cyber center of excellence and ensure this critical regional employer remains competitive to attract new squadrons and missions
  • Welcoming Refugees Makes St. Louis Strong

    Dec 01, 2015

    The St. Louis Regional Chamber is driven by one overriding purpose – to inspire a greater St. Louis.  Study after study shows that immigration to Missouri, including settlement of fully screened refugees, provides both an economic benefit and is in line with our core values as a nation.  Being a welcoming community, particularly to those fleeing war and persecution, makes St. Louis stronger.  We have been disappointed to observe some of our national leaders call for Congress to halt the entry of refugees, particularly Syrian refugees, to the United States.  Similarly, we have been disappointed to hear some in Missouri call for refugees to be barred from settlement in our state.  The Chamber strongly supports efforts to ensure Missouri remains welcoming to those who want to come here to start a new life and contribute to our economy and society.

    The economic benefits refugees bring to Missouri and to the St. Louis region are real and significant. Some examples include:

    • Since 1999, resettled refugees have resulted in an estimated $160 million in direct economic impact to the St. Louis region.
    • In 2013 alone, the International Institute of St. Louis facilitated 415 job placements that earned an estimated $9 million in labor income for the region, providing a total direct economic output (the value of industry production for these workers) of over $90 million. 
    • In 2014, the Institute facilitated 556 placements with an average wage of $8.68, resulting in just over $450,000 in state tax revenue for these workers.  More broadly, an estimated 10,000 adult refugees work in the St. Louis Region alone, which translates into millions in state tax revenue each year.

    These economic benefits have been demonstrated in other states as well.  A 2012 study of refugee costs and benefits in Cleveland found local refugee services agencies spent about $4.8 million that year to help refugees get established in the area.  The study found the positive economic impact those refugees had on the community was nearly $48 million, roughly 10 times the initial resettlement costs.

    Missouri has been blessed with a vibrant and growing entrepreneurial community.  Multiple studies on refugees have found that they are more likely to be entrepreneurs and enjoy higher rates of successful business ventures compared to native-born.  In addition refugees increase demand for goods and services in local markets and can be particularly beneficial to communities that have declining populations, such as the City of St. Louis.  We have a recent example of such a strong, vibrant refugee community with as many as 50,000 Bosnian-Americans who have started families, created jobs and contributed to economic growth right here in St. Louis.

    As Americans we have long prided ourselves for being the refuge of those fleeing tyranny or oppression.  While the Statue of Liberty may not have initially been sculpted as a symbol of immigration, the plaque mounted on the Statue’s base confirms our century-old invitation to the less fortunate with its line “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” 

    Turning our back on refugees betrays our core values as a welcoming, diverse community that benefits from the contributions of all our immigrants. It sends the wrong message that Missouri is making judgments about people based on their religion or country of origin.  President Reagan saw our country in much the same way, as “a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

    We can welcome refugees while keeping our families and communities safe.  Refugees are the most thoroughly screened group of people who come to the United States, with background checks and security screenings including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon and multiple intelligence agencies.  Federal officials interview each refugee to determine whether they are true refugees and whether they are admissible to the United States. They then undergo a series of biometric and background checks, which is compared against government databases. This process typically takes more than two years before the refugee would arrive in the U.S.

    Our country is at its finest when it provides the example for other nations to follow.  Our openhearted and inclusive spirit, especially when welcoming refugees fleeing war and persecution, should continue to be an example for the world.