Equity and inclusion, progressive legislation and efforts to improve the lives of the city’s most underserved are just a few of the hallmarks driving St. Louis’ success these days. While national stories to the contrary have gained traction in recent months, St. Louis continues to be recognized for its welcoming and inclusive nature.
In 2017, the city was recognized by the American Community Survey report as the second fastest growing metro area for the foreign-born population out of the nation’s 25 largest cities. Thrilled by the transformation of the city, the St. Louis Mosaic Project, a regional initiative within the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and the World Trade Center of St. Louis, set a goal of transforming St. Louis into the fastest growing metropolitan area for immigration by 2020.
The previous year, St. Louis was ranked as the most liberal city in the U.S. by Livability. A surprise to some no doubt, but not to those who reside in the uniquely diverse neighborhoods that make up this eclectic city situated in the epicenter of the country. At the time of the designation former St. Louis Mayor Francis F. Slay cited in his blog: “Immigration has made us a better city. Stronger. More resilient. More dynamic. More economically vibrant. It’s given our children the opportunity to forge lasting friendships with those telling different stories from different backgrounds but with one shared humanity.”
Additionally, St. Louis is one of only 11cities in the country and the only one in the Midwest, to receive a perfect score of 100 every year since 2012 when the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) began rating cities on a Municipal Equality Index (MEI). The HRC’s index is based on how inclusive a city’s laws, policies and services are to the LGBTQ community. Thirteen companies headquartered in St. Louis also scored a perfect 100.
To learn more about the real story of what’s happening in St. Louis, please read the fact-based Q&A below:
What is St. Louis doing to improve race relations since the Ferguson unrest?
From Dred Scott to Michael Brown and the Ferguson uprising, city officials, corporations and nonprofit partners continue withthe difficult work of transcending decades of inequality in the U.S. to ensure St. Louis is a model of inclusion and social justice for the nation. The Ferguson Commission’s Ferguson Report is a national blueprint for the St. Louis region and addresses multiple equality and social justice initiatives. While the problems faced by St. Louis are universal for many American cities, St. Louis is poised to lead national conversations to find solutions that build stronger and more resilient communities for all residents.
Additional response initiatives to the Ferguson unrest include: Emerson (Fortune 128) pledging more than $6 million to the Ferguson area; Centene (Fortune 124) selecting Ferguson as the site for a new claims center that produced 200 new jobs; Monsanto (Fortune 189) donating $1 million over two years to four nonprofits to support community development programs; and Boeing expanding its North County campus, bring 1,000 new IT, R&D and manufacturing jobs to the community.
Are corporations reaching out in other ways to draw attention to equity and inclusion?
Diversity Awareness Partnership (DAP), which started here in 2001, hosts a variety of programs throughout Missouri to educate the public on issues pertaining to race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identify and disability.
DAP’s Listen.Talk.Learn. seminars bring corporate and institutional leaders, employers and residents together to discuss race relations and unconscious bias and gives participants the tools needed to discuss these issues. Another program, Give Respect, Get Respect Diversity Youth Program (GRGR) connects middle and high school students, administrators and local businesses during a series of five, free anti-bias sessions throughout the school year. The nonprofit also works with numerous partner corporations including Edward Jones, Ameren, The St. Louis Cardinals and Wells Fargo, to name a few. In addition to supporting DAP, local businesses are taking their own initiative to increase diversity awareness. Ameren, MasterCard, Monsanto, Edward Jones, and Anheuser-Busch have made diversity efforts a key strategy for recruitment, talent development and succession planning.
What about the recent NAACP travel advisory?
We recognize the impact discrimination has, and continues to have, on all people – no matter their ethnicity — and we find it reprehensible. It’s important to note that the basis for the advisory is statewide legislation approved in Jefferson City but opposed by many St. Louis area legislators. In St. Louis we value equity and inclusion, and we oppose all legislation that removes protections from discrimination. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson has called on “local businesses, institutions and organizations to review their internal policies to protect against discrimination and recommit to the importance of those policies” on behalf of our residents and nearly 26 million diverse visitors who come to St. Louis every year.
How are groups to St. Louis responding to the statewide travel advisory?
This year alone, St. Louis played host to more than 400 groups and conventions, among them: Herbalife (30,000); FIRST Robotics (25,000); Church of God in Christ (25,000); Joyce Meyer Ministries (24,000); National Baptist Connection (14,000); National Council of Teachers of English (7,000); O’Reilly Automotive Stores (7,000); National Urban League (5,000); Emergency Nurses Association (5,000); American Alliance of Museums (5,000). In fact, the National Urban League kicked off its four-day national convention here in July by paying tribute to the new job training and education center in Ferguson, developed by the local Urban League affiliate and the Salvation Army. We continue to invite groups here to see how welcoming our community really is, and to showcase the abundance of affordable and world-renowned cultural institutions that surround us. Many groups, like the National Urban League, have identified unique ways to help make a positive impact on the community, including community service projects, or educational programming addressing diversity issues.
Area developers are taking heed as well. Ten new hotels are planned throughout downtown St. Louis, Midtown and Clayton,which will contribute an additional 1,547 rooms to the area’s already abundant inventory that include some of the most prestigious brands in the industry — Royal Sonesta, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Westin, Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott. New construction begins in January 2018 on the 216 luxury guestrooms (including 19 suites) at Live! By Loews, located across the street from Busch Stadium at Ballpark Village.
Paying tribute to St. Louis’ historic past, hotel guests will soon be able to walk the halls of the famous International Shoe Factory, get booked at the former Clayton Police Station, gaze in all directions atop the iconic terra cotta bedecked rooftop bar at the historic LaSalle Building, and even order a drink at the courtroom-themed bar at the former Municipal Courts Building. These vestiges of the city’s past life will soon be converted into uniquely themed hotels, all capitalizing on the city’s historic narrative.
What about the accusations of discrimination by the police department, especially in response to the recent verdicts?
In response to the Ferguson Report and recent protests, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has established new levels of collaboration with federal and state law enforcement partners to coordinate strategy and focus on deterrence. In a unique partnership, efforts also include collaborating with social service and mental health agencies. The department has also established a new unit to encourage relationship building between officers and the residents in their patrol area. In addition, the department has become a regional leader in terms of diversity among its police officers – at all levels of command – by recruiting underrepresented individuals, and requiring cultural competency training for all officers.
In addition, Mayor Krewson of St. Louis City made a change in leadership at the police department on her first day in office and there is a search underway for a new chief.
What are local officials doing to support the community?
There are several ongoing initiatives, including:
- In 2016, St. Louis was selected as one of the 100 Resilient Cities, a program pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation and dedicated to helping cities become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges they face. In addition to addressing St. Louis’ needs, resilience building is also about acknowledging the city’s strengths, and creating coalitions and support systems to foster a citywide dialogue.
- Since 2014, St. Louis has been part of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Initiative, which helps selected cities address challenges facing their local governments, by leveraging existing assets, and providing new resources as they develop plans for their communities and invest in economic growth and job creation.
- The city’s local leaders are partnering with the federal government for a 10-year period to boost economic activity and educational opportunities in the designated Promise Zone in North St. Louis. St. Louis is the largest Promise Zone nationally of the 22 communities identified. The partnership has resulted in securing more than $70 million in federal funding for investing in the community, which is adjacent to the new National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s Western Headquarters.
What, if anything, is Explore St. Louis doing to promote equity?
One of the programs we are most proud of is our partnership with the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) and three local unions. Working in conjunction with our partners, our goal is to continue to diversify the workforce at America’s Center.
Another program we are equally proud of is the St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative. Launched in 2001, the organization helps companies, minority employees, and vendors expand their business inclusivity throughout the region. Activities include everything from skill building to networking opportunities. Explore St. Louis is one of the organizations participating in the program.
All Explore St. Louis employees take anti-harassment training and the organization has diversity goals for both employment and purchasing.
What is SLATE?
The St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) operates numerous Missouri Career Centers throughout the city that offer intensive training to job seekers. The organization also helps employers diversity their workforce; works closely with the St. Louis Public Schools to assist students in exploring various career paths; and, helps adults improve their math literacy.
Are you really a gay friendly city?
The rainbow flag doesn’t fly in just one area of St. Louis — LGBTQ residents call all of St. Louis home. In fact, for the last two years, St. Louis has been recognized as a “Top 10 LGBTQ-Friendly City” by the Advocate.
In a tribute to its gay-friendly culture, Mapping LGBTQ St. Louis, a digital interactive map, launched in October 2017 and features more than 800 points of reference related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history in the St. Louis region from 1945 through 1992. The nearly 50- year time span represents the demographic changes in the region’s population that began after World War II, and culminates with the St. Louis Board of Aldermen passing the city’s first gay and lesbian-inclusive civil rights ordinance in 1992. Visitors to the site can click on color-coded locations that represent not only LGBTQ-friendly bars and restaurants, but businesses, clinics and churches, to name a few. For example, one dot on the map highlights the location of the first meetings of the Black and White Men Together (BWMT) chapter which began in 1982, and another dot, the Union Avenue Christian Church, which offered services for people living with AIDS, including a food outreach program.
The study was done in collaboration with the Center for Humanities, Washington University in St. Louis and the Divided City Initiative, as part of a Mellon Foundation grant. Other partners included the St. Louis LGBT History Project, Missouri History Museum, Washington University Libraries and The State Historical Society of Missouri.
Additions to the site will more than likely include mention of the diversity in housing throughout multiple neighborhoods, the boom of several gay-friendly entertainment districts, the marriage of four same-sex couples at St. Louis City Hall in 2014 — a year before such unions were legalized nationwide – and that the city plays host to one of the Midwest’s largest Future PrideFest parades (300,000 parade watchers in 2017).
What about other diverse groups?
St. Louis has evolved into a global melting pot in terms of welcoming immigrants and refugees. The city currently has the largest Bosnian population – 70,000 – in the country, and the largest population outside of Europe. Based on the 2010 Census, some communities in the region, including the city’s famed Cherokee Street neighborhood on the city’s south side, has experienced rapid growth in the Hispanic population, while the Asian population has increased by more than 51 percent. In addition, the city has experienced a 53 percent growth in racial minorities, which is contributing to the region’s economic growth.
How are these groups acclimating?
We have an incredible support system for these new residents. Helping foreign-born St. Louisans acclimate to their newsurroundings are the International Institute of St. Louis (IISTL), as well as the Asian American, African, and Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, and the St. Louis Mosaic Project, among other organizations. The IISTL, founded in 1919, integrates more than 7,500 immigrants and refugees from 80 countries each year, and builds connections between foreign-born and long-time residents, serving as a national role model for their programming. The organization also hosts the annual Festival of Nation’s in Tower Grove Park, which attracts more than 125,000 people annually.
In addition, we have the Regional Business Council’s Young Professional Network. This organization attracts and retains young talent to the region and gives these future leaders unique opportunities for networking, professional development and community involvement. The network is open to ethnically diverse professionals under 40, and currently has more than 5,000 members.
Also, Cortex Innovation District, located in Midtown, hosts the largest weekly happy hour for innovators in the world every Thursday at its Venture Café. More than 500 people, many from all over the world, attend the various weekly learning sessions. Guests wear nametags that indicate the number of times they’ve attended. Don’t be surprised to see some sporting tags that list numbers well over 100.
Missouri just reversed the minimum wage ordinance – seems a bit regressive. What’s going on with that?
To the contrary, leaders in St. Louis passed an ordinance in 2015 designed to increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour, an effort to lift up working families and bolster the local economy. Initially challenged in the courts, the city prevailed and, in the spring of 2017, hourly wages increased to $10. In spite of the state General Assembly’s reversal of the ordinance in August 2017, more than 100 local businesses have pledged to continue paying the higher hourly rate, and have even created a #SaveTheRaise campaign to persuade others to disregard the change.
You mentioned progressive legislation earlier, what else has St. Louis done?
St. Louis has been very progressive in terms of legislation. In addition to the minimum wage ordinance, the city was one of the first in the nation to initiate a “Smoke Free Air Act” (2011) that to this day prohibits smoking in enclosed public spaces including galleries, bars, restaurants, convention facilities and retail stores, to name a few. St. Louis also celebrated the marriage of four same-sex couples at St. Louis City Hall in 2014 – a year before such unions were legalized nationwide.
Regarding transit, St. Louis is moving fast. Some of the more recent activities:
- As a result of recent passage of Proposition 1, the city has available funding for multiple MetroLink expansion options. A new stop that serves the Cortex Innovation District in Midtown is already scheduled to open later this year.
- Imagine a city where walking and biking and commuting to work and play is a seamless experience. St. Louis is well on the way to making that a reality. If fact, the city has already been designated as one of the “10 Best Cities to Live in Without a Car – Benefits of a Car-Free Lifestyle,” by MoneyCrashers (2015). This past year, the League of American Cyclists honored St. Louis with a “silver” ranking as one of the most Bicycle Friendly Communities.
- Great Rivers Greenways, a regional public agency, has accelerated expansion of the area’s unique and popular network of interconnected trails and greenway that currently total 114 miles, and will grow to more than 600. GRG just announced an international design competition that will result in a plan to connect Midtown to downtown and the iconic Arch grounds. In late 2019, a 25-mile “figure eight” trail linking the Arch, Malcolm Martin Park/Fountain, Chain of Rocks Bridge, Eads Bridge and the McKinley Bridge, will be completed allowing cyclists to ride on both sides of the Mississippi River. Also, by 2023, cyclists and hikers will be able to travel from Jefferson Barracks Park in south St. Louis County to the Katy Trail State Park, more than 20 miles away.
So why St. Louis? What do you have that other cities don’t?
From historic, vintage and New Age to holistic and hip, visitors can experience St. Louis in real time – every hour, every day, all year long – inside and outside. Affordability and convenience mesh with world-class amenities and unique experiences. Plus, most of it is free.
Forbes honored the City as the 7th Most Affordable City in 2017, and St. Louis is a past recipient of the All American City Award. In other rankings, both Business Insider and The Penny Hoarder place the city at the top as the place where Millennials can best afford to live and work. It’s also a great place to raise a family.
So, what to do? The area is a destination location that features 70 golf courses, 140 parks, the 235-mile Katy Trail, hundreds of hiking and biking trails, 64 craft breweries, 40 wineries, eight lakes within a one-hour dive, numerous caves for spelunking, farms, orchards, an abundance of dog parks, and an arts district that has more than 12,000 theater seats representing 50 arts organization and a dozen galleries and museums. In addition, the savory selections St. Louis has to offer will satisfy any palette – from elegant dining to food trucks, the city has an appetite for good food. In fact, nine James Beard Foundation nominees and three James Beard winners are cooking up tasty dishes for St. Louisans on any given night. Vicia, in the Cortex district, was just voted “One of America’s Top New Restaurants” by Eater.com and bon Appetit (2017). But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For more suggestions, click on Things to Do.
We are also a very generous city. Charity Navigator, the country’s largest charity evaluator, recognized the city as the third highest rated charitable community in 2017 – and 2nd in 2016 — out of the 30 largest metro areas in the U.S. Since 1990, the St. Louis Community Foundation, a nonprofit foundation composed of more than 500 charitable funds, has donated nearly $300 million to organizations in St. Louis and around the world. In 2016, United Way of Greater St. Louis raised a record amount of $74.3 million to help one in three people throughout the greater St. Louis region. Through the organization’s local partnership with more than 170 nonprofit agencies, as well as programs and services such as United Way 2-1-1 and STLVolunteer, more than one million people are served each year.
St. Louis’ “Best of” Accolades
- “2017’s Best Cities For Recreation,” (No. 21), The New York Times
- “52 Places To Go In 2016” (No. 46), The New York Times
- “Best City Park” (Forest Park), USA Today, 2016
- “The Best Cities In The U.S. To See Cherry Blossoms” (Missouri Botanical Garden), Where Traveler, 2017
- “America’s Best Free Attraction” (Saint Louis Zoo), USA today, 2016
- “Best U.S. Zoo,” USA Today 10 Best, 2016
- “2017’s Best Cities for Hockey Fans,” WalletHub
- “Ranking the Best Baseball Towns in North America” (No. 1), Real Simple, 2017
- “2016’s Best Baseball Cities” (No. 2), WalletHub
- “Best Baseball Cities to Visit,” Travel Channel, 201z
- “MLB’s Best Fans,” Forbes 2015
Food and Drink:
- Vicia, in St. Louis’ Cortex Innovation District, “One of America’s Top New Restaurants,” Eater.com and bon Appetit, 2017
- “#1 of 10 Places to Get Real Frozen Custard,” Real Simple, 2017
- “12 Underrated Destinations for Foodies” (No.5), Buzzfeed, 2017
- “15 Best Cities for Beer Lovers” (No. 10), Redfin, 2016
- “2016’s Best Cities for Coffee Lovers” (No. 12), WalletHub
- “Esquire’s Bar City of the Year: St. Louis,” Esquire, 2015
- “Best Cities in the U.S. For Millennials” (No. 17), CNBC, 2017
- “10 Best Cities for Single Women” (No. 10), Move Buddha, 2017
- “Queerest Cities in America” (No. 4), Advocate, 2016
- “Best Places for New Year’s Eve” (No. 8), WalletHub, 2016
- “The 25 Best Cities for Young Professionals (No. 21), MSN 2017
- “2017’s Best Large Cities to Start a Business” (NO. 7), WalletHub
- “The Top 15 American Cities for Young College Grads” (No. 14), Business Insider, 2017
- “The Best Cities in the Midwest for Venture Capital Funding in 2016” (No. 3), EQ
- “The Best 14 Startup Cities in America” (No.