To maximize NGA momentum, let’s look to fiber

One could argue that we’re a pretty lucky city. I know, you’re probably rattling off evidence to the contrary in your head right now. Sluggish post-recession growth, a certain sports team leaving us in the rear-view mirror, a beloved brewing institution falling victim to hostile takeover, being passed over by Google Fiber for an Internet infrastructure deal that’s already paying dividends in the startup scene for our friends on the other side of the state. The list could go on and on and probably looks different depending on what you value as a St. Louisan.

We’ve taken some licks, to be sure. There’s no denying that. But despite it all, opportunities for growth and transformation continue to present themselves, the latest being the announcement by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) that it will remain headquartered in St. Louis and will construct a $1.75 billion new facility to house more than 3,000 employees. The decision, which the NGA announced at the beginning of April, is yet another opportunity for the city to reinvigorate growth and reshape its image. At the beginning of June, the NGA made its decision official.

And the reaction from the St. Louis tech community was understandably jubilant. Cortex Innovation Community President and CEO Dennis Lower told CBS St. Louis that information technology is the clear future for St. Louis. Securing the NGA’s status as its preferred site has been seen as a “big win” with the opportunity to rejuvenate the city’s North Side.

“The St. Louis City site provides NGA with the most technological, academic and professional environment for this agency to develop the capabilities and solutions necessary to solve the hardest intelligence and national security problems entrusted to us by the American people,” said NGA Director Robert Cardillo in an official statement released by the agency.

See? Pretty lucky right? Well, maybe that’s not the right word for it. After all, the deal was the result of the hard work on behalf of all those involved, and if St. Louis wouldn’t have done the work to make itself attractive as an emerging tech hub, then the deal very well could have gone another way. Mayor Francis Slay even described the negotiations as taking place in “a most competitive atmosphere.”

So what does that tell us? It tells us that our work here is not quite done. We have to continue to make our city attractive to startups and business owners conscious of the realities of a new economy, one where rent in places like San Francisco and New York are often too steep to be justifiable for companies just getting their start.

We can continue to court these businesses that decide to forgo these more famous upstart hotbeds, but not without continued investment. We must make sure, above all, that we have the Internet infrastructure capable of supporting the “knowledge economy” that is so clearly, in the eyes of emerging business leaders, the future. Otherwise, we’ve seen what happens when stagnation reigns and innovation and investment lag. Beloved institutions pack up and head elsewhere.

But we’ve got another opportunity in front of us now, and it’s up to us to capitalize on that momentum. From our perspective, it’s an opportunity for downtown building owners to make sure there’s are the lofts and apartments in which those “high-wage, high-skill” employees of companies like the NGA want to live. It’s an opportunity to make sure the city has the infrastructure in place to court more and more of the businesses that are the engines of the new knowledge economy. Because if St. Louis becomes known as a city where gigabit Internet speeds are readily available, I guarantee that the NGA will not be the last high-tech firm that announces its proud to call St. Louis home.

If you’re ready to request your building or business be connected to our fiber Internet network, let us know here.