National Geospatial Intelligence Agency headquarters

As construction continues on the new National Geospatial Intelligence Agency headquarters on the city's near northside, the St. Louis region is being hailed as a leader in geospatial technology and it will host the GEOINT Symposium in October, the largest annual gathering of geospatial intelligence professionals in the U.S.

Cities all over the Midwest and the country are going through changes, finding their unique identities amid an ever-changing, tech-focused economy. St. Louis is no exception to this trend and has created an environment ripe for innovation. The economy in this growing Missouri city is booming for businesses, entrepreneurs, tech workers, millennials, and more.

One sector that is seeing unprecedented growth and significant investment from the public and private sectors is geospatial technology. St. Louis is predicted to become a leader in geospatial technology, but this rise did not happen overnight. A few years ago, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency announced a new headquarters in St. Louis. Now, there’s construction underway on an expansive 97-acre Next NGA West campus in the northern part of the city. Already, the rapidly growing sector is responsible for roughly 27,000 skilled jobs and nearly $5 billion of economic growth in the region.

Public officials, civic leaders, and business moguls have all bought into this notion and continued to attract investments and companies that have created a geospatial hub in Silicon Prairie.

A part of the community

While its new facility is under construction, NGA recently partnered with the firm Maxar Technologies to facilitate a “GeoHornet Mapathon” hosted by Harris-Stowe State University that helped create a more detailed map of north St. Louis.

Twelve HSSU students were part of a team of 30 that added nearly 600 buildings to OpenStreetMap (OSM), a free, online map of the world available to be viewed and edited by anyone.

Maxar, an innovator in Earth Intelligence and Space Infrastructure which recently opened a new downtown office, offered high-resolution satellite imagery to serve as the foundational mapping layer for OSM. It ensures that the mapping information platform users create maintains the same accuracy as Maxar imagery. The company’s effort is also part of its commitment to the St. Louis area with an emphasis on workforce diversity.

“By filling data gaps in OpenStreetMap, the GeoHornet Mapathon is introducing geospatial technology to students and growing geospatial skillsets,” said Freddie Wills, assistant vice president for STEM initiatives at HSSU.

“It also is driving application of geospatial data across multiple academic disciplines to benefit students, teachers, the St. Louis geospatial economy and local residents.”

What is Geospatial?

Geospatial technology is the “science of location” and is a rapidly growing field of technology.

St. Louis is becoming a national leader and a recent NASDAQ release said the region “is growing rapidly thanks to investments by government, civic, economic development, academic and community organizations.”

In October the city will host the GEOINT Symposium, the largest annual gathering of geospatial intelligence professionals in the nation.

Geospatial operates everything from map data and guidance systems on mobile devices to weather radar for local forecasters. Apps like Uber, DoorDash, Yelp, Amazon, and even Starbucks rely heavily on the ability to create a user experience that works.

Using technology like Geographic Information System (GIS), Internet Mapping Technologies, Remote Sensing (RS), and Global Positioning System (GPS), geospatial technology allows for data to be collected and used for location analysis, map modeling, intelligence, and more. Retail, defense, environmental, logistics, and even healthcare industries benefit from geospatial technology. It makes so many parts of daily life possible and easy with its ability to understand spatial dimensions.

The NGA investment wave

When the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency decided to put roots down in St. Louis, it put the city in the unique position of being a global geospatial leader. The field is still emerging with public and private interests, so St. Louis recognized an opportunity for sizable economic growth and embraced the technological moment when competing for the new headquarters.

The investments did not stop with the federal government. Once some of the NGA offices were established, the start of a geospatial tech hub began to surface. Innovative companies like ESRI that are leading the industry were attracted to the area; even with a headquarters in California, its presence in St. Louis and the greater state of Missouri is growing. Additionally, Boundless, an open-source geospatial software firm, also moved to the Heartland from New York City in 2016.

GeoFutures is a regional initiative with a group consisting of 29 business, civic, and academic leaders. Together, they are developing a cooperative plan to brand St. Louis as the go-to destination for geospatial technology companies and startups. With a shared vision and agreed-upon agenda, they can start to brainstorm solutions to the challenges ahead – like strengthening a skilled talent pool.

There’s an energy in St. Louis that is hard to quantify: One that exudes entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation, and partnership. Attracting high-growth companies to the midwest poses a unique challenge and St. Louis is no exception. Many believe its recent success in the geospatial arena is due to partnership and a “shared understanding that businesses are stronger if they work together”.

One example of the power in collaboration is in higher education where St. Louis University and Washington University have joined together for COLLAB. Here, the universities will offer joint and separate programs for training in cybersecurity, entrepreneurship, information technology, and engineering management among other things. Filling the need for geospatial talent will be a central focus for COLLAB. 

The advantage for St. Louis

St. Louis provides benefits like a high-quality, affordable housing stock. Residents can live in an urban apartment in the city or in a farmhouse on multiple acres of land and still have a reasonable commute. It also boasts a stock of resources for startups and growing companies. Being a mid-size city, it is big enough to make national and even international impacts in technology, but small enough to build partnerships and be a part of the community. In the geospatial space, St. Louis has started to build out a strong network and community with industry leaders. This will only expand further in the next few years as the federal government continues its large investment and private companies follow suit.

One America Works is a nonprofit with an emerging voice in the space of remote jobs. Their work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Axios.

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