The Great Recession hit the City of St. Louis really hard. But, we are recovering. During the recession, we have witnessed more than two BILLION dollars in new construction and expansion. That is a reflection of the tremendous resiliency of our economy - and our people.
Crime is down significantly in the City.
We added three new quality charter schools last fall, bringing to 13 the number of charter schools that my charter school advisory board have helped create in the City. Two more were announced by the SLPS yesterday.
Lambert Airport has added 38 new flights in the last 16 months.
Our credit rating is A plus, the best it's been in more than two decades.
We just passed legislation that will provide for additional improvements for the long term maintenance of Forest Park, received the largest federal transportation grant in the country for the Arch grounds project, and won approval from the state for tax credits for the Cortex development project in the Central West End.
We retained and are growing Stifel, Ralcorp, and Peabody Energy.
The Saint Louis University law school is moving Downtown bringing with it 1100 faculty and students.
New businesses are moving into the City, including Unisys, Faultless Linen, Architectural Control Systems, LTI Trucking, and Landshire Foods.
We are focusing on entrepreneurialism and small businesses. Start Up St. Louis, a new IT accelerator, called T-Rex, opened in the Railway Exchange Building. Just this week, we announced Arch Grants, which will provide worthy startups with $50,000 grants if they locate Downtown. Also, this week our regional partnerships celebrated receiving a federal Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Grant to develop and grow companies. Both projects have a focus on diversity and inclusion.
A number of big construction projects should be finished this year, including the Grand Avenue Bridge and the Tucker Bridge. We're going to open a brand new recreation center in North St. Louis. The Lambert Airport tornado repairs will be done in the Spring, and the Airport Experience Project will be done in the fall.
The North Riverfront is becoming an even larger employment center. Proctor and Gamble is making a $150-million investment there. Henkel Consumer Products, Elantas PDG, Wunderlich Fibre Box, United Fruit and Produce, ADM, and others in the north riverfront area are growing and expanding. We are investing $20 million to repair and upgrade the municipal dock.
Thanks to Kitty Ratcliffe and her team, our convention and visitors business grew in 2011, and we expect 2012 to be even better. We have more big convention business on the books in 2012 than any year in the past decade.
We certainly have our challenges. The Missouri General Assembly failed to approve the legislation needed to jump start the airport. But, we are not giving up. We still see a lot of international interest in Lambert and St. Louis.
We are working with the business community, St. Louis County, and organized labor to improve the airport. We need to decide what we want the airport to be, and what we are willing to do to get it. Small measures will help. But, they won't be enough.
As a City, we must get the cost of our public employee pensions under control. They are threatening our ability to provide needed services.
We must identify additional funding for the Arch grounds project.
We must take full advantage of the MSD construction project to devise a new way to ensure that women and minorities in our City and our region have access to good jobs.
We must get over our own insecurity or modesty or whatever it is and convince the rest of the country what we already know...St. Louis is a great place to live, work, and build a business.
Finally: regionalism. Too many geographic lines divide us. Too many organizations work at cross purposes or even compete against each other. We are competing in a world economy. We need to start acting like it.
I am for the City re-entering the county. I am for putting all of the region's airports under one roof. I am for Metro and East-West Gateway operating as one team. I am for regional development of our transportation and shipping infrastructure (Rail, river, highways and air).
Until the rest of the region comes on board, we need to take steps towards stronger regional structures by doing the obvious things together, including economic development, public health, and code enforcement.
We have our challenges. We know what they are. We have proven to ourselves that if we work together, we can meet them.