Connect the Dots: The Year that Was

Posted: Friday, December 26, 2014 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:39 am, Mon Dec 29, 2014.

By Benjamin Akande

From weeks of unrest in Ferguson and the acquisition of a St. Louis-based life sciences and high technology company by a German pharmaceutical giant, to the economic impact of the Cardinals’ fabulous post-season run and the launch of two major business incubators providing start-up support, 2014 was a big news year for the St. Louis region.

Many of the stories had a significant economic bearing – for better or worse. Here is my ranking of the year’s biggest stories in the region.

1. Ferguson

This is probably No. 1 on the list of most St. Louisans. Not since the Rodney King verdict in 1992 has there been such outrage over perceived police brutality. In the weeks following Michael Brown’s fatal shooting, rioters attacked and looted businesses in Ferguson as well as in nearby communities. A second wave of rioting followed Thanksgiving week when the prosecutor announced the grand jury’s decision. The riots battered the region’s image and have sparked protests, even boycotts and heated discussions nationally about race, and the antagonism between law enforcement officials and African-Americans.

2. The Cardinals and the Post-Season

Who says sports don't matter? According to the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce, more than 3.4 million people trooped to Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals during the 2014 season, and approximately 6 million people visited Ballpark Village. The Cardinals had a fantastic run, winning 90 games, tying for fifth-most wins in the majors, and making it all the way to the National League Championship Series before being eliminated by the San Francisco Giants. The winning streak was apparently good for business. It's estimated the Cardinals had an economic impact of $338 million on the region.

3. Two New Major Business Incubators

T-Rex, the joint effort between city, state and county business development resources, (Downtown CID, SLDC, St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, the St. Louis Regional Chamber and the Technology Entrepreneurship Center) partnered to acquire and staff the former Lammert building. This collaboration advances the region’s capacity to incubate and support high-growth, technology-focused businesses. This facility current supports the efforts of 101 different technology companies in a single building.

CIC Cambridge selected St. Louis Cortex as home for its second location after extensive global search for innovation communities. The CIC believes start-ups make the world much better. CIC helps them by setting up and managing their office so the start-up can focus on their business. The first center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has helped more than 1,400 companies. These companies have attracted more than $1.8 billion of venture capital. CIC’s choice to open its second location in the Cortex development creates another home for entrepreneurs in St. Louis. It includes more than 40 start-ups, as well as the innovation centers for Boeing and Nestle Purina.

As the result of these openings and other community resources, no other community in the country can offer more resources to early stage companies.

4. Sigma-Aldrich Joins the Merck Family

Merck, the German giant pharmaceutical and chemical company, acquired St. Louis-based Sigma-Aldrich, one of the area’s largest and most prominent corporations, for $17 billion in cash last September. The deal is expected to expand the reach of Merck’s chemical unit, EMD Millipore, and improve its earning power.

5. The Region’s Most Powerful Woman

For the eighth year in a row, Pam Nicholson made Fortune’s list of Most Powerful Women in Business. Nicholson, the first non-family member to serve as CEO of Enterprise, was No. 22 on the list. Her success at a high-profile family business has inspired many women to pursue professional careers in the St. Louis area.

It's obvious that 2014 was a year of action milestones and activism. Let's ensure that 2015 is a year of transformation, especially as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Gateway Arch. Onward, forward!

Benjamin Ola. Akande is a professor of economics and dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology at Webster University.