Time to Resuscitate St. Louis

The following is the full text of the keynote speech delivered by Benjamin Ola. Akande at the Royal Vagabond’s Seventh Annual Leadership Awards.

I am honored to speak at the Royal Vagabond’s annual luncheon. And, as I look around the room, I see quite a number of regional leaders, leaders who have the wisdom, the talent and the power to challenge the paradigm that is our region. Leaders who I hope share my belief that St. Louis can and should be one of the great 21st century cities of America, that we can regain the status we held in 1904, and the momentum we experienced in the 1960’s when the gateway arch was completed. That we can be better tomorrow than we are today.

So, let me ask you some straight forward questions...

Do you hear flawed thinking and let it go, or do you take it upon yourself to change minds and attitudes? Do you challenge assumptions, seek to build consensus, and make it your mission to lead from where you are? Are you working every day to find better ways to strengthen our community?

We live in a time where common sense and reality don’t seem to get the respect they once garnered. A recent editorial in the London Times expressed this perfectly. Written as an obituary. It reads as follows:

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, first name common, last name sense, who has been with us for many years, and will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:

  • knowing when to come in out of the rain;
  • why the early bird gets the worm;
  • that life isn’t always fair;
  • and maybe, just maybe, it was my fault.
  • those who bring light into the life of others cannot keep it from themselves
  • always make sure you are fighting the battle in front of you, and not the one behind you.

Common sense lived by simple, sound financial mantra, such as don’t spend more than you can earn, and adhere to the tried and true, that adults not children are in charge.

The health of common sense began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student.

Common sense finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common sense was preceded in death:

  • by his parents, truth and trust,
  • his uncle, integrity
  • his wife, discretion,
  • his daughter, responsibility,
  • and his only son, reason.

Not many people attended his funeral, because so few realized he was gone.

I believe that most, if not all of you here today would agree that common sense, if indeed not dead, at least is on life support.

The examples are almost too many to list. At the national level, we decry the problems that are destroying lives, then turn around and not allocate funding for programs designed to fix them. We agree that people with mental health issues should not be able to purchase firearms, but we cannot agree on steps to prevent them from buying guns.

We have validated research that confirms that early childhood education is so critical to a child’s development, but have failed to provide the resources to ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to grow, develop and learn.

We are reminded daily about the opioid crisis, which has touched every one of us, cutting short the lives of so many young people, many here in St. Louis. This crisis is responsible for 64,000 deaths in 2016. More people died from opioid than the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined. I am worried about the pervasive impact that this epidemic will have on society.

Our public schools are underfunded, even though statistics show that only 31 percent of students in St. Louis public schools are proficient in English, 17 percent in science and only 9 percent in math. We need a common sense response to addressing this gap.

In the city of St. Louis, one in four people live in poverty, including 40 percent of our children. Common sense would say this is a reality that is not sustainable. But are we actively addressing it?

National statistics consistently list St. Louis as the murder capital of the united states with 205 deaths in 2017 and already 27 as of last week. We downplay the reports by arguing that those statistics only reflect the city’s and not regional data. But doesn’t it make more sense to focus on how to put an end to the violence?

But haven’t we ever considered the fact that those crime statistics, along with the negative image of our region almost four years after the Ferguson unrest, may be costing us jobs and future opportunities for growth.

St. Louis is no longer a destination for large companies looking to expand. And those already here too often find themselves on the flipside of mergers and acquisitions.

We like to say that St. Louis is a great place to live, an ideal place to raise a family, a big city with excellent cultural attractions, wonderful parks, manageable traffic and Midwestern values. I would agree that all of that is true. But that mindset also suggests that we are married to the status quo. We like what we are, and we don’t care to address what could make us even better.

Someone once wrote, “life is like a taxi. The meter just keeps a-ticking whether you are getting somewhere or standing still.” St. Louis is standing still even though it may look like we are moving forward.

Nowhere is our love of the status quo more apparent than in the ongoing debate over our city government fragmentation. The data is revealing.

Between St. Louis city and county and our 90 municipalities, we spend $281 million dollars a year on general government administration. That’s $7,600 per year for each family of four.

By comparison, the Louisville metro area, which has 83 municipalities and a fully integrated regional government, spends $132 million dollars less. We cannot grow and prosper in the 21st century with an 18th century governance structure.

That’s just one example. But imagine what we could do with that $132 million. Hire more police? Fix our schools? Help train people to lift them out of poverty and build a state with the best mass transit system?

Instead, we cling to the status quo and ignore facts in favor of keeping things the way they are. Isn’t it time to focus on how much greater we can be?

I know that change can be scary, and in fact the only person that likes change is a wet baby. But failure to change in the face of so many challenges is simply irresponsible.

We owe it to ourselves, our children, and their children to make St. Louis a better place to live for all. Even if it means ending the status quo.

So, what can we do? What must we do?

The Royal Vagabonds have always been an organization that is not afraid to ask tough questions. Working as leaders in the community, they have pursued new and better ways to improve the lives of those in need. What we need is a vision — that our best days are ahead of us and not behind us. We need to recognize that what we have been doing isn’t sufficient to keep irrelevancy at bay, and we need a commitment to make bold changes that put us back on the path to long-term success.

I believe St. Louis needs a new kind of commitment today more than ever.

As a first step, I suggest that it’s time we dare to step out of our current reality and take the stairs up to the balcony. A place where we can get an over-arching view of what’s wrong with St. Louis and then determine how to make it right. It’s also a time to convene to identify the problem, come together as a community to figure out what it will take to resolve it and then act within a defined timeline.

In their fine book “Leadership on the Line,” Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky offer a practical and wise exercise for people and organizations in the midst of serious challenges.

Anyone who has been to the theater and sat in the balcony knows that you get a very unique vantage point on what is happening on stage. You are able to see things from all angles. You see it better. You get greater clarity when we view our circumstances from above the fray.

The trip to the balcony is an opportunity for all of us to take a critical look at ourselves, to reassess what we see and hear, and to re-inject common sense into our daily lives. And specifically, to take a good look at the direction in which St. Louis is going and change direction.

It begs the questions: what do you most admire about the St. Louis region? What strengths can we build upon? What are the things we need to fix – the thing we must stop doing? What needs to be changed? What will we allow to endure?

One hundred fourteen years ago, St. Louis was the most important city on the planet when in 1904 we hosted the Olympics and the World’s Fair simultaneously. People from all over the world came and admired our parks, our graceful architecture, our picturesque riverfront. Those things are all still here.

Yet some would argue that St. Louis’ past is much greater than our present. Are we to accept that the apex of this great city was more than a century ago? That all that is ahead is more disappointment and hand-wringing over what might have been?

When Amazon doesn’t deem us worthy of their consideration, (we didn’t make their top 20 cities for consideration), we chose to pat ourselves on the back for putting together what was described as a strong proposal, while others maintained that Amazon isn’t the future for every city. Amazon is looking for a stable and business-friendly environment, an urban or suburban location with a record of attracting and retaining strong technical skills and communities that think and act boldly.

Our problem is integration, separation and fracturism — it’s killing us. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that most of the shadows in our lives are caused when we stand in front of our own sunshine. St. Louis, it’s time to get out of our own way.

When we see many of our major corporations being acquired by out-of-town corporate interests, rather than the other way around, do we shrug our shoulders and say it’s a sign of the times?

We need common sense strategy that’s bold, that harnesses our competitive advantage to create what doesn’t exist. It cannot be a strategy based on hope. What we need is a strategy based on best practices.

We need to create the kind of economic environment whereby we are the ones doing the acquiring and bringing more resources to St. Louis, rather than shipping them out. Let’s stop waiting for the future. It’s time we build it.

When our elected state officials in Jefferson City propose to cut taxes and follow the failed lead of states like Kansas and Oklahoma, where is the outcry on behalf of those who desperately need basic services that will likely get cut, and the mixed signals we send to businesses here and those who are looking for a new location? Do we respond with our voices and our votes?

A few years ago, I had the honor of introducing noted historian Tracey Campbell at a talk here in St. Louis on the history of the Gateway Arch. The book is entitled “The Gateway Arch,” and if you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so. As you know, this coming summer we will celebrate the opening of the new museum under the Arch, marking the end of the renovation of the memorial on the riverfront.

This was a team event that brought together corporate, government, foundation and individual interest. Along the way, we created jobs and injected millions of dollars into this community.

But how many of us know the history that underlies our national monument? We seldom ask, what was there before the arch? Who benefited from its construction? Who lost? What could have been? These are questions we must ask ourselves as we seek to transform and strengthen St. Louis for the future.

The story of the Gateway Arch is much more complicated than the account provided to visitors. It involves political and economic power, short-sighted city planning, and decades of disputes.

It’s true, the Arch transformed our city and gave the nation a timeless landmark. But it also displaced hundreds of people and businesses and created an island that separated the city from the river for more than half a century, and as an example of urban planning, one could argue that, for all its merits as a tourist draw, the Arch and the surrounding grounds enhance the prestige of St. Louis or bring significant economic gains to our city.

This Gateway Arch does not stand alone as an attraction to our city. What are we doing to make St. Louis a safe place to live and visit? What was arguably the city’s greatest asset, its location along the mighty Mississippi River, is something we seem to have overlooked. Just over a century ago, St. Louis considered itself the potential equal of New York City and the site of a relocated American capital.

The city’s population today is half of what it was when the idea of the arch was first conceived. Ferguson has become a national catchword for what is wrong with St. Louis. We take pride in proclaiming what a great place St. Louis is to raise a family; yet that message does not seem to resonate with those looking in from outside who see a rising homicide rate, a city without a mass transit system, and a divided place politically. Common sense must prevail here.

Richard Florida, author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” writes that the leading innovative and creative cities have three T’s in common – technology, talent and tolerance.

Richard affirms that the three T’s explain why cities such as Baltimore, St. Louis and Pittsburgh fail to grow economically despite their deep reservoirs of technology and world-class universities. He contends that perhaps the problem is that they are unwilling to be sufficiently tolerant even though they are open to attract and retain top creative talent.

We’ve spent several hundred million dollars to revive our landmark; the view from the balcony suggests that money is likely to do little to address what really ails our community and to resolve the lack of tolerance for what Richard Florida speaks. We have to own up to the fact that many outsiders see us as a city on the decline, and they are not willing to invest millions of dollars in such a place. It’s time we change this narrative and inform America of what we have to offer.

The reversal of perception must begin by taking a common-sense approach to prioritizing our goals, boldly addressing the challenges we face, and demonstrating the courage to change directions.

So, where is the vision to make St. Louis a truly great 21st century city? Where is the commitment to aggressively deal with the far-reaching recommendations of Forward Through Ferguson or For the Sake of All? Who will provide the courage to challenge our fragmented city structures, which eat up valuable resources and duplicate services?

I believe more than ever that St. Louis is ready for leadership who is willing to set things right, to get out of their comfort zones, to confront the paradigm, challenge assumptions, build consensus and find a better way for our community. We need our leaders to offer a vision that our best days are ahead and not behind us. Leaders who recognize that all of us cannot succeed when some of us are ignored or left behind. I’m talking about leaders who refuse to look forward to the past, and are not in love with status quo, folks afraid of the dark and suspicious of the light.

Whatever we have been doing isn’t working. It’s time to question everything; it’s time to rethink our current strategy.

But the kind of leaders St. Louis needs are not necessarily at the top. We need people like you who can be the strongest single force for transformation. Folks who are not content with things as they are, but willing to do what is necessary to challenge the status quo and its very large constituency. I’m talking individuals willing to lead from where they are.

My friends, I’m appealing to you to become – in the words of Bill Drayton – change makers: Citizens who can identify the problems in any situation, figure out ways to solve problems, lead collective action, and not only advocate for change, but become the personification of change itself.

Beyond Housing, under the leadership of Chris Krehmeyer, exists to eliminate the consequences of poverty by creating strong communities that support healthy families and children. As a comprehensive and nationally recognized community development organization, they bring civic leaders, targeted non-profits, corporate partners and residents together to help 24 communities, which surround the Normandy School District, to become better places to live. They have done it by providing support and resources in the areas of education, housing, health, employment, readiness, access, economic development and personal finance.

Since 2011, Beyond Housing has invested over $100 million in housing and economic development, health programs, support of the Normandy schools collaborative and other programs in the nationally recognized 24:1 initiative.

While much has been accomplished, we have much more to do.

My friends, I’m asking that we all take that journey to the balcony, and when we get there, to take a good long look at our communities — but we can’t stay up there. We must come down and get involved. Be the change we need. Together, we will succeed in resuscitating that dying old man in St. Louis — common sense. But the window of opportunity is closing my friends.

Great cities are not created overnight. They are the product of longstanding political, economic and cultural forces walking step by step together. In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the bold bets we left on the table, and the decisions we waited too long to make.

Someone once said that common sense is a flower that doesn’t grow in everyone’s garden. I affirm that we must make our garden in St. Louis fertile ground for common sense to thrive, so that one day, in the not too distant future, when we convene once again at the annual Vagabond luncheon, we will take stock and share the stories of how the new St. Louis was built — how we were courageous enough to go to the balcony and from that unique vantage position, we saw a future that was much better than our present. And then we came down and went to work to make it a reality.

So, allow me to share with you a glimpse of what St. Louis should look like come 2025. Our city will become a national leader in four sectors — human health, plant science, technology and financial technology.

Human health in 2025: Washington University and BJC as the anchors to Cortex will become the leading recipients of NIH grants in the country, displacing Boston, Texas and California as the leaders in human health research and application.

Plant science: The Danforth Plant Science Center will have over a half-billion-dollar endowment. 500 scientists and 200 plant science companies from around the globe at 39 North. Leading the way in providing food security (a safe and abundant food supply) to the 9 billion humans on the planet. Leading the second green revolution.

National security: The new NGA facility in St. Louis opens in 2023, creating a boomerang effect because of the efforts through USGIF -United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. The St. Louis region will begin the journey of becoming the second-most important national security hub beside Washington, D.C.

Technology: Because of a unified effort at tech skills education, St. Louis is no longer a fly-over technology center. It hosts the broadest array of technical education opportunities in the Midwest. The product of the higher education institutional collaboration in St. Louis. There is a cluster of 400 startup companies (twice the current number).

Financial technology: as a major financial center, the community grows to be the center of excellence on cybersecurity for individuals. This technology will be deployed through Mastercard paired by other financial institutions Edward Jones, Stifel, Commerce, Enterprise Bank, Wells Fargo and others into the banking and personal investment industry.

In 2025, new companies start here. Established companies grow here. Great companies stay here! Why? We are no longer the Gateway to the West, we are the Gateway to the Future.

I end with one question — what role will you play in building this future?

Getting St. Louis IT on the Dean's List

Published in: St. Louis Commerce Magazine
Author: Bill Beggs, Jr.

Someone once referred to the Mississippi River and environs as "the Third Coast." If that's the case, St. Louis is smack dab in the middle, between other big river (coastal) cities such as Minneapolis and New Orleans. This puts our information technology fortunes in perspective, if you consider the popular mythology that nothing much happens in this sector anywhere but on the East or Left coasts.

Those in the know would encourage the great unwashed to take a closer look at what the St. Louis IT Coalition and business incubators, plus civic and corporate forces throughout the region, are doing to raise the bar for this tech sector on both of our coasts; i.e., the east and west banks of the Mississippi.

None of this would be possible, of course, without a strong commitment from colleges and universities throughout the region.

We surveyed a sampling of the business and technology "brain trust" deans, chairs and other leaders at college and university business schools in Missouri and Illinois to get their perspective on what's happening, and what the future holds, here on the Third Coast.

Here are the questions we posed:

What can higher education in St. Louis do to attract IT talent to the region?

Since many IT grads tend to move around as they move up, how do we keep them engaged so that they remain here rather than leave for a job on a coast?

How is the incubator environment and the corporate community rising to the challenge of IT workforce development and retention? Are we indeed "on the Dean's List"? If not, how do we get there, and where do we stand now in comparison to other IT-savvy regions of the country?

Here's what our sources had to share:

Keith Womer, Dean

College of Business Administration University of Missouri-St. Louis

Our focus is on educating the St. Louis workforce. Our undergraduate, masters and Ph.D. programs in information systems are focused on the intersection between business and information technology. Some of our students start with us right out of high school, but others come back for a new focus on their career.

At the undergraduate level, we mostly are involved with developing IT talent for St. Louis rather than attracting it. One message that we all need to deliver is that IT is a good starting point for a career in business. We also need to communicate the message that there are good, entry-level IT jobs in the United States. Of course, there is a great deal of messaging on the other side of this issue to counteract. The UMSL Summer Camp Extreme IT is one of our efforts to combat this perception.

The need for professional IT project managers is great and, in my opinion, this is the crucial next step for many IT professionals. We support the search for IT talent by providing the graduate programs in business and information systems that permit IT professionals to move from implementing technology to managing the IT workforce. UMSL's Masters of Information Systems program and the Information Systems emphasis in our MBA program provide this crucial link for those who are serious about an IT career in business.

In addition to the availability of graduate education, to retain IT talent, St. Louis must provide a work life that is second to none. Companies that are regularly ranked among the best places to work have little trouble holding on to their talent in IT or in other fields. On the other hand, a company that quickly moves to outsource its IT work whenever the economic wind changes will find that holding onto IT talent is very difficult indeed. I think the key to retaining IT talent is demonstrating that the company is willing to invest in talented people. This is not just paying market wages, but committing to education and corresponding career development. I believe that progressive companies are doing this, but we need more of them.

At UMSL, IT Enterprises (ITE) is designed to be a major force in translating innovative ideas into thriving businesses in the fields of information technology and life sciences. To succeed in this mission, the enterprise offers state-of-the-art infrastructure and access to the expertise of university faculty and students. In concert with the University of Missouri's fourth mission, ITE fosters innovation to support knowledge-based economic development. ITE provides all of the services that IT entrepreneurs need to start successful companies.

I believe that we have the programs and opportunities that are necessary for St. Louis to be among the very best places to pursue an IT career. What we need to do is to let young folks know what the entry opportunities are and to work diligently to insure that there is a clear career progression from those entry positions to the very top.

Benjamin Akande, Dean

School of Business & Technology, Webster University

Business schools should seek out young men and women who have demonstrated potential and interest, and invest time and resources to develop them. Retaining talent can only happen if there exists a formalized collaboration between B-schools and the IT sector.

St. Louis' effort through the IT Coalition and RCGA is gradually yielding fruit. St. Louis has a plan and is committed. In time, we will own a piece of the sector.

Craig Klimczak, Vice Chancellor

Technology & Educational Support Services St. Louis Community College

High-paying IT jobs still in high demand require years of educational preparation and experience. Further, IT technologies continue to rapidly evolve thus demanding lifelong learning. Higher education institutions need to continue to evolve their IT educational programs to remain current with the changing technologies and create new non-traditional professional development offerings. Professional growth and development are often tied to educational attainment, so St. Louis area higher education institutions need to provide this access.

IT grads seek rapid promotion and want to work on interesting projects. The St. Louis region needs to develop a critical mass of IT development project opportunities and embrace a mobile workforce. St. Louis IT culture is one of long-term employment focused around systems maintenance. Shifting our thinking to look at IT projects as construction projects opens the door for a more mobile IT talent workforce. As one project ends, those skills can move to the next organization in need of them.

For this to occur, IT organizations need to act more collegial by sharing their future opportunities with other IT organizations that are wrapping up projects. Local organizations such as the IT Coalition and St. Louis Works are promoting these relationships among local employers. Further, both are working to inform the IT workforce of opportunities.

The incubator environment thrives on the mobile talent workforce and thus provides the opportunities to work on new and interesting projects. These opportunities keep the best and brightest engaged and working in our community. Retention needs to be viewed as retention in the region, not necessarily with the same company.

We need to rally business and community support around the efforts of the RCGA, St. Louis Works and the IT Coalition. These groups are promoting the region's IT talent base and are working to build the collegial environment that will sustain a mobile yet engaged IT workforce. Creative people need a variety of opportunities to stay fresh and engaged.

Robert Talbott, Professor

School of Business and Entrepreneurship Lindenwood University

To attract IT talent to the region, we need to offer educational courses in the latest technology and to show the benefits thereof. Moreover, we need to show how critical IT is to our region, how St. Louis has a large number of companies that rely heavily upon IT, and that there are abundant opportunities to develop a hearty network among IT professionals in the region.

A primary concern for IT workers is staying current in their field. To keep them engaged, they need to be provided with opportunities to improve themselves and to update their skill sets. In addition, competitive salaries and bonuses are still quite important, along with opportunities for promotion and development and generous accommodations for personal and/or family time.

Regarding IT workforce development and retention in the corporate environment, I feel that the corporate community could do much in the way of improvement. IT workers move from one job to the next based upon the lack of job satisfaction, which is abundantly recognized not only in the job network but also in scholarly articles. This lack of satisfaction can come from varied sources: weak promotional opportunities, overwork, poor development opportunities, poor compensation/raises, family-work imbalance, and the like. Rising to the challenge of IT workforce development and retention is achievable but may cut into the short-term bottom line. Consequently, organizations must weigh any short-term losses against strategic long-term gains. Retaining IT workers means retaining an organization's IT and (to some extent) business knowledge, prized company assets.

We are striving to be a recognized region, though some will remain dominant for decades: e.g.; Silicon Valley, Redmond, Wash., etc. St. Louis has had numerous IT breakthroughs, but to become a top player, the area will need considerable, highly visible breakthroughs in IT across different industries, along with strong entrepreneurial IT ventures. Moreover, the promotion of our existing IT base: i.e., the IT workforce and the existing companies that rely heavily on IT and are industry leaders' is vital. In addition, area universities must continue to develop research and to offer courses in leading technologies, from academic and practitioner standpoints.

Kian Pokorny, Ph.D.

Associate Professor & Chair, Division of Computing McKendree University

Over the past five years at McKendree we have experienced approximately a 40 percent decline in the number of students choosing one of its computing majors, compared with the 70 percent decline in undergraduates choosing a computer science major nationwide. Many of those entering the first course are unprepared for computer programming, which has traditionally been the first introduction to the computing disciplines for entering college students. High schools do not have a uniform curriculum in computing and students do not understand what career opportunities exist in IT.

We have taken several actions in recent years that have had a positive impact. First, we diversified our degree programs. In the past, we had the traditional majors in Computer Science and Computer Information Systems. Now we have added new majors in Information Technology, Interactive Media and Computational Science. These new majors provide options for students that help to initiate the inquiring process for many students. They begin to realize that there are many career paths in the IT field, not just solitary confinement to a cubicle as a programmer.

Secondly, we have restructured our introductory courses to allow students to experience a larger view of the IT world in their first year of college. The first semester course goes beyond computer programming to introduce topics in database and network administration; computer architecture and organization; software engineering; artificial intelligence and game programming; and careers in computing. Students begin thinking about the vast career options in the IT world and receive an overview of topics to come if they choose one of the computing majors.

These two strategies have enticed new students who would not have been interested in the rigid introductory programming/calculus sequence of our traditional Computer Science major or the rogramming/accounting I & II sequence that begins our traditional Computer Information Systems major. Our Information Technology major appeals to those teenage whiz kids that own and maintain enough computing equipment to run a small country. The Interactive Media major attracts students who are visually inspired. Game programming is the big pull for this one, but also students are reminded that simulation software and scientific visualization also fall under this category. Our Computational Science major allows students to incorporate areas of application in the degree program. Students can specialize in areas such as biology, chemistry or economics and finance allowing them to experience how integral computers are in helping people in the world solve difficult problems. We continue to maintain strongest enrollment in the CS and CIS majors.

The bottom line is that we have recognized that the student population has changed over the past 10 years as has society's use of technology. Students are not just interested in computers for the sake of computers. Heck, everyone has one. Students want to do something important with their lives. They want options that impact society. One of the goals of our new programs is to show how computers and information technology helps solve the difficult problems the world faces.

Gary Giamartino, Ph.D.

Dean and Professor of Management School of Business, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Is there an IT talent "deficit" in the region? I've heard folks claim that, but I have never seen any data to support the notion. I think we are growing splendid IT talent in the region, now.

Let's think about what resources we have in the area: major universities that engage in research and teaching, offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs that should be able to meet the region's needs. A number of smaller colleges and universities that have undergraduate IT-oriented programs. Several community colleges that deliver technically oriented curricula.

With all those educational institutions producing graduates every year, I am not convinced that there is a deficit in IT talent in the region. We see more indicators that the number of undergraduate students majoring in information systems in our business school will continue to grow as long as students believe that there are productive careers to be made in IT. Much of the media coverage in recent years of IT outsourcing led people to believe that there would not be good career opportunities in IT.

There may not be as many innovative IT companies in this region as one would find in Boston or the Silicon Valley, but there are some outstanding innovative IT companies that have been started by regional IT talent. We should not be so quick to discount the talent and resources that are here. We should do everything we can to continue to grow those resources for the future.

There are encouraging signs that the corporate community recognizes the need to have an innovative, vibrant climate in which entrepreneurial IT companies can grow and flourish. The leaders involved in the St. Louis IT Coalition have demonstrated their support by sponsoring awareness-raising events like the Gateway to Innovation Conference and the Emerging Technology Forum series. Both events stress skill building for individuals, benchmarking best practices of corporate performance, and innovative ways in which companies are using IT to solve business problems.

John Lewington, Ph.D., Associate Dean

John E. Simon School of Business Maryville University

I don't know of any stats to measure the "Dean's List." However, I don't think we are on the list compared to California, Washington State, or the New England area. Our region is focused on biotech...Monsanto, Novus International, Danforth Center, Bunge, etc. A city our size cannot spread itself across too many business sectors.

That said, the region needs to provide programs that deal with the present needs of IT-courses that focus on project management, and the new virtual economy. The Internet has, and is continuing to, increase productivity in marketing and supply chain management.

We have award-winning companies in the virtual space–e.g., Scottrade and leaders in healthcare cost management–e.g., Express Scripts–that are both dependent upon cutting-edge IT to manage their businesses.

Washington University and Saint Louis University both have large entrepreneurship research grants and programs. There's always money for great ideas.