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Economist: St. Louis’s Reputation Is Holding It Back

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Lambert - St. Louis airport

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - St. Louis has all the pieces to be an economic success, says the top U.S. economist for Colliers International, so why the disconnect between potential and reality?

St. Louis ranks high in several economic sectors: financial services, insurance, technology, biotech, and energy and economist K.C. Conway said St. Louis packs the double punch of being where the rivers, roads and rails converge, and being in the perfect center for air service.

So why are major corporations placing their distribution centers elsewhere? Conway cites the city’s reputation.

“For a corporation to move its executives with families, they’re saying ‘wow, I’d rather be in North Carolina where I can be closer to The Research Triangle, the schools are good, the universities are good.’ Whether that’s reality or not, that’s the perception,” he explained.

But Conway said a second concern is a lack of coordination among the moving parts. He notes that Missouri is the only state in the country with two Federal Reserve banks but wonders how many St. Louis leaders have accompanied St. Louis Fed President James Bullard to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Conway argues that St. Louis’ ticket to more air service isn’t in attracting Delta or United Airlines, it is in becoming a hub for foreign airlines of all colors and stripes. He said the dominant Latin American, European and Asian airlines would like to fly their own planes into the U.S.

“They want access to our airport markets and so one of the discussions in free trade is give us access to gates and the airports,” he said. “So there’s another opportunity where [St. Louis] could be ahead of someone else who says ‘wow, we don’t have anymore gates to give.'”

If St. Louis coaxes the top foreign airlines to land here, Conway says, then domestic flights will follow to shuttle those people around. He adds that St. Louis is wise to try to expand the “cargo hub” concept beyond China because Latin America is where the real growth is.

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