Spanning parts of the states of Missouri and Illinois, St. Louis is the 20th largest of the nation’s 382 metropolitan statistical areas. Nearly one of every 100 Americans lives in the St. Louis metropolitan statistical area (MSA). We produce more than $155 billion of the nation’s $18,037 billion in annual Gross Domestic Product.2 Clearly, what happens in St. Louis is important not only to the people and the firms residing here, but to the nation as a whole.
At the heart of the 15-county St. Louis metropolitan area is the Gateway Region, comprised of the eight counties served by East-West Gateway. These include the City of St. Louis; Jefferson, Franklin, St. Charles and St. Louis in Missouri; Madison, Monroe, and St. Clair in Illinois. Together, these major jurisdictions serve 2.6 million residents -- more than 90 percent of the population and employment base of the larger MSA.
When the East-West Gateway was established in 1965, the St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area included only seven counties – five in Missouri and two in Illinois. Agricultural production predominated in the region’s outlying counties; with this exception, most economic activity in the region was concentrated in the City of St. Louis and growing suburbs near the urban core. Manufacturing and distribution were our principal economic strengths.
Since then, both the City of St. Louis and the Gateway Region that surrounds it have undergone remarkable change. Slightly more than 12 percent of the region’s population lives in the City of St. Louis today and only 17 percent of the region’s jobs are located there. The service sector has long surpassed manufacturing for share of economic activity. The Region’s modest overall population and employment growth is the product of continuing losses in the core, combined with nearly-explosive growth in some suburban areas.
It is not possible to describe the region as the sum of its individual parts, of course. The present and futures of the region’s core, suburban, and rural jurisdictions are intertwined. St. Louis’ is a dynamic metropolitan-wide economy, where firms and labor markets are linked by a complex transportation network and travel patterns that take workers and suppliers across jurisdictional boundaries many times in the course of a day. Information and computing technologies unheard-of only a few decades ago render our political geography far less restrictive than it used to be to citizens and employers, region-wide.
The Gateway Region has extremely promising assets. We are home to several of the nation’s premiere colleges and universities, the foundation of research and knowledge essential to innovation and growth in this global economy. We enjoy a central location with easy access by air, rail, auto, and telecommunications technology to both coasts and our North American neighbors. We have a citizenry who are unabashedly proud of their local communities -- we rank near the top in “sense of community” among major metros. Our cost of living is low; our housing is quite affordable to the average family; and we tax at a lower rate than any other metropolitan area around.
We also have considerable challenges. With each decennial Census since 1980, we find that more people are leaving the St. Louis region than moving in. We rank very low among competing metropolitan areas in job growth and in new business starts. We have not attracted the new immigrants that other metros have done in recent decades, and our demographic profile is much less diverse than that of regions that are growing. Economic and racial disparities create chasms within the regional family. Our governmental structure is third among the 50 most populous MSAs in terms of fragmentation.
East-West Gateway analysts forecast continuing slow population growth for the region as a whole during the next 20 years, with some level of continuing decline in the core and expansion in the outlying counties. Will this be adequate for the metropolitan area to maintain our position as a national center for population and employment? Will this growth happen in such a way as to preserve and enhance the sense of community that residents value? What will be the physical, fiscal, and governmental infrastructure needed to support future goals? Will we be able to afford it? These are some of the questions that come before the Board and committees of East-West Gateway.