St. Louis location will be challenged by Illinois leaders
By CARL GREEN
St. Louis – The selection of St. Louis as the recommended new site of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) should keep union construction workers employed for years to come, provide a multitude of recruitment and training opportunities and help revive a part of the city that had fallen on seriously hard times.
The 3,100 permanent, full-time jobs coming with the $1.75 billion project already are located in St. Louis, but city officials hope that many more new jobs besides construction will eventually be created from development of the now-moribund near-north side location.
While the decision makes St. Louis the “preferred alternative” for NGA’s western states headquarters, the final decision is not due until May 31 after a public comment period, giving St. Clair County site supporters time to seek a reversal; Illinois leadership has made it clear that there will be a major effort on their part to do just that.
BUILDING TRADES’ MAJOR CONTRIBUTION
“I think this is probably the biggest news that the Labor Movement in St. Louis has ever, ever had,” said Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council.
A key part of St. Louis’ winning campaign was the council’s unique “Community Workforce Agreement” pledging that at least 37.81 percent of labor hours on construction of the new NGA will go to minority workers. That more than the doubles the 17 percent inclusion goals set forth in federal guidelines.
The agreement also calls for at least 23.28 percent of all labor hours going to St. Louis city residents and that at least 6.9 percent of labor hours will go to women.
“When we first came up with the idea, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) said this could be a game changer,” Aboussie said. “We firmly believe this commitment was a strong component dovetailing beautifully with the city’s proposal for rebuilding North St. Louis.”
The commitment includes an expansion of the Council’s Building Union Diversity (BUD) program, which provides opportunities for minorities and women, as well as existing journeymen, to become apprentices with participating unions so that they can learn the skills needed to be employable for the rest of their lives. City residents or people living in designated “Promise Zones” would receive priority status.
“We’re going to really transform what our workforce looks like with our minority goals,” Aboussie said. “Our percentage offering for minorities was double the federal guidelines. Never has that been done before.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and this is going to be a good day in the construction industry,” he added. “We’re going to give people opportunities they never had before right here in St. Louis.”
“You’re talking about a decade’s worth of construction,” he said. “There are going to be thousands of jobs that will come and go throughout this decade. Never have we had a project of this size and magnitude – which is huge.”
Estimates of the construction and construction-related jobs to be needed have ranged as high as 15,000. The Corps of Engineers’ last forecast was for 425 construction jobs, 250 support jobs and 650 additional jobs, for a total of 1,345.
The St. Louis site, 100 acres at the center of the city, mostly along Jefferson and Cass avenues, was chosen by NGA Director Robert Cardillo over a 182-acre rural location offered by St. Clair County, following an exhaustive site evaluation by the agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The selection spares the city of St. Louis the loss of about $2.19 million a year in earnings taxes, which was specified as a “moderate” negative impact of moving out of the city.
ILLINOIS TO PUT UP FIGHT TO CHANGE DECISION
Madison County Board Chairman Alan J. Dunstan and St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern have made it clear the fight is not yet over, that they don’t consider the decision final and they will make a strong case for change in the public comment period over the next four to six weeks. A final decision is expected by May 31.
“Obviously we are disappointed,” St. Clair County’s NGA-to-Scott Twitter page said. “Our team is reviewing the Final EIS (Environmental Impact Study). We will organize our response during this current comment period.”
“We’re going to continue to work hard and see through this process of relocating to the site adjacent to Scott Air Force Base,” Sen. Richard Durbin said. “During the upcoming comment period on this decision – and beyond – we will continue working with the Department of Defense and stakeholders at home to protect the future of Scott, its dedicated employees and its enormous impact on the regional economy.”
KEY FACTORS INFLUENCING DECISION
No single overriding factor was cited as the reason for the decision, but the Final Environmental Impact Statement, issued last week by the Corps and NGA, specifies several ways in which the St. Louis site was judged better than the competing sites in St. Clair County and Mehlville and Fenton in St. Louis County.
Mehlville and Fenton were essentially ruled out because they would cost more and need more time to start construction.
That left the city and St. Clair County. St. Louis was judged superior on three key factors:
- Mission Efficiency and Flexibility, which includes issues such as finding nearby industry partners, attracting quality staff members and the site’s proximity to the NGA sister installation in Arnold.
- Environmental Impact, which takes into account substantial improvements that will be made to the St. Louis site and noted minor issues in St. Clair County involving wetlands and wildlife habitat. Fenton was actually considered the best option from an environmental standpoint.
- Federal Government Priorities, which includes a list of regulations and orders intended to improve and redevelop urban areas. The city gained from several of these, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions with shorter commutes and promoting infill development of blighted areas.
St. Clair County scored points in the security category for being located next to Scott Air Force Base and having a wide open, rural landscape.
From a cost and schedule standpoint, both sites were offered at no charge, and both were seen as suitable for construction in 2017.
NGA uses satellite technology to gather national security information and was instrumental in the locating of Osama Bin Laden.
“The St. Louis site provides NGA with the most technological, academic and professional environment for this agency to develop the capabilities necessary to solve the hardest intelligence and national security problems entrusted to us by the American people,” Cardillo said in announcing his decision.
‘VICTORY FOR URBAN AMERICA’
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay called the preliminary ruling “a victory for urban America.”
“The NGA has called St. Louis home for the past 72 years, and I am thrilled that Director Cardillo has indicated that the agency and its 3,100 employees very likely will continue to do so well into the future,” Slay said.
“The construction of a state-of-the-art intelligence agency in north St. Louis would have an immense impact,” he added. “The many benefits to the future of both St. Louis and NGA are immeasurable, promising and exciting.”
For his part, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon lauded the joint efforts of city, county and state officials.
“This is a great day for St. Louis and a shining example of what is possible when Missourians work together across regional and party lines for the good of their communities,” he said.