ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis area government and civic leaders on Thursday launched an ambitious effort to help entrepreneurs start their companies, grow them and keep them in St. Louis.

Plans were announced Thursday to raise $100 million over five years to invest in startups. The public-private partnership will seek money from private companies, investors and foundations.

St. Louis was once home to many nationally recognized companies. In the past two decades many have merged with other firms — McDonnell Douglas was sold to Boeing, Trans World Airlines to American Airlines. Perhaps the biggest blow to the region’s psyche came in 2008 when Belgian brewer InBev purchased Anheuser-Busch.

Civic leaders hope the funding will help St. Louis grow its own businesses and create firms that will stay as they expand.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said several startups in St. Louis are already on the verge of significant growth.

“I will do everything in my power to help them grow and thrive because that’s what we need,” Slay said. “This is a pivotal moment in our history.”

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said the effort “guarantees the best new companies will stay in St. Louis and thrive for years to come.”

Other efforts to help startups in St. Louis have already begun. A nonprofit group called Arch Grants has awarded $50,000 apiece to 35 startups over the past two years. But support from the state has been tepid — an analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association found that Missouri ranked 34th in total venture-capital dollars awarded in 2012.

St. Louis already has some success stories. LockerDome, which opened in 2008, is a growing sports-themed social media company that recently raised $6 million in venture capital.

Mark Lewis, LockerDome’s chief financial officer, called the St. Louis commitment to helping startups “a game-changer,” so much that he believes the city could be a global tech hotspot by 2015.

“The St. Louis community is formally committing to nurturing, supporting and funding companies like LockerDome to build the next generation of high impact enterprises,” Lewis said.

The effort was announced at the office for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, one of the region’s most successful startups ever. Jack Taylor founded the company more than a half-century ago in the back of a Cadillac dealership. It is now one of the world’s largest rental car companies.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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