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My Hopes For Business In St. Louis In The Next Decade

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by David Garland in David's Blog

I rarely do a local post, but as we head into, believe it or a not, a new decade, I figured it would be a good time to talk about the potential of The Gateway City.

First of all, I love St. Louis. My family is from here. I’m from here. Marcie’s (my fiancee) family is from here. Marcie is from here. I bleed St. Louis Blues hockey. I’m a big Cardinals fan and I painfully watch Rams games. St. Louis has a great theatre scene, arts community, attractions for kids (such as Six Flags), amazing local businesses (many under the radar screen), street festivals, a small town feel, our own local lingo “Where did you go to high school?” plus the aura of Ted Drews, and a REALLY good dining scene (seriously, I travel all the time and St. Louis has an amazingly underrated dining scene).

That being said St. Louis is known as a great place to raise a family but not a great place to raise a business. Or more specifically not a great place for innovation.

When people think of business in St. Louis, the most common responses are:

“Anheuser Busch.. errr In Bev”
“Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Monsanto”
“Banks, Banks, Banks”
“Lawyers, Lawyers, Lawyers”
“Real Estate, Real Estate, Real Estate”
“Is that Ballpark Village thing ever going to happen?”
“Downtown St. Louis aka Ghost Town”

The common threads: Big old school businesses and conservative ventures. Fair enough as these are important for any city ( a foundation), but I would argue St. Louis can do much better than this.

St. Louis has a great opportunity to be an entrepreneurial powerhouse (maybe not the world leader but certainly better than it is now), retain young talent, and be a marketing mecca (seriously, no joke).

No, St. Louis isn’t going to be the next Silicon Valley or New York City, but I don’t think we St. Louisans would want that.

St. Louis is a town that celebrates its own. Sort of like a proud small town. It is time to celebrate entrepreneurship and innovative marketing.

Here are some ideas of how St. Louis can upgrade our business culture:

1. Celebrate Successful Entrepreneurs

Why do so few people know that Jack Dorsey (Founder of Twitter) is from St. Louis? Or that World Wide Technology (a 3-billion dollar company) was started from absolutely nothing in St. Louis (check out my interview with their founder Dave Steward)? Or how about Build-A-Bear founded by Maxine Clark was born under the arch (interview with Maxine here)? On that note, this holiday’s phenomenon Zhu Zhu pets are St. Louis born and raised.

How do you celebrate these entrepreneurs? I have many ideas…here are a few:

A. More mainstream media coverage. Unique stories and features. Not just that Bank X decreased .2%.
B. More online media coverage. Blogs, online shows, etc. based in St. Louis have a great opportunity.
C. More events. Lunch & Learns. Successful entrepreneurs meeting with up-and-comers.

2. Pay Attention To The Up-And-Comers

There are many of them. Yurbuds, Virtual Nerd, Widget Realm and the list goes on. Plus, smaller unique businesses (including numerous local restaurants, cafes, gyms, etc. doing great things) as well as outside-the-box businesses such as Rizzo Tees.

“Paying attention” here means more press coverage, more buzz on social media, and more buzz in the media in general. Own the St. Louis heritage. Encourage others to start businesses here. The power of group is very powerful.

3. Highlight St. Louis As Mecca Of Marketing

For a mid-sized city,  St. Louis has an absolutely HUGE number of marketing companies. At least that’s how I see it. Ranging from PR to communications to digital marketing to pretty much everything in between including independent marketing consultants, etc.

Why so many? The simple answer is (was) Anheuser Busch. AB kept many of these small shops in business for year by spreading around marketing, advertising and PR dollars in the community.

With media changing so rapidly, many of these firms will fail. Just a fact of business during this evolve or die time.

But, there will continue to be an emergence of great PR, marketing and advertising people in St. Louis (including such folks as Bob Lachky who I was extremely fortunate enough to interview. Bob was THE man behind Anheuser Busch’s most successful campaigns including the Budweiser frogs, Lizard, etc.).

And I’m saying this with a bias as well. Why?

1. I have RISE, an entrepreneurial daily marketing online TV show launching January 4th.
2. I consult/speak on innovative and digital marketing/strategy and social media.
3. I’m one of three principles of Rangency Labs launching this January which is a collection of marketing/pr/web/design/video  rock stars who are teaming up to provide everything from education to execution.

St. Louis with its central location between New York and LA is geographically positioned to be a big player as the “center of the innovative marketing universe” (slightly exaggerated). But, I’m not kidding. There is WAY too much talent here that should be tapped.

4. Embrace Outsiders And Provide Resources To Everyone

The St. Louis stereotype is this town is an old boys network. Based on past connections. Based on who your father is. Based on where you grew up. Based on where you went to high school. While this is great for networking if you are IN the inner circle, it is not so much if you are an outsider.

Whether someone is born and raised in St. Louis or has been here for 1 week, our city needs to do a better job of being welcoming, providing events/resources, and embracing everyone that comes to St. Louis for work or play.

5. Focus On Relationships and Using Technology

I often start some of my local speeches joking about the 6 Degrees Of Separation. My joke is in St. Louis that it is about 1 degree and that person is probably a relative.

This is a HUGE positive for the city. If it is so easy to become connected (in person and online), we should jump on this. The mayor having coffee with the start up. The billion dollar company helping the $1 company. Instead of being competitive, what if we were all more helpful?

Plus, what is St. Louis REALLY focused on connecting both online and off? City-wide WIFI (here’s hoping!) would be fantastic (*wink*)

Become pioneers to new technology that HELPS the community become smaller and more connected (social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook and smaller sites which will be huge in 2010 including FourSquare and Gowalla).

This doesn’t mean the city has to develop every piece of technology, but instead pick and choose ones that help the community, promote it, use it, help local businesses and entrepreneurs use and understand it, and just improve our connectivity whether the handshake is virtual or in person.

Those are my thoughts. I can’t wait to help with the movement.

What are yours? If you are a St. Louisan, what is your perspective? If you are not a St. Louisan..what is your perception of St. Louis and what is YOUR community like?

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