U.S. Senator Roy Blunt

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt speaking at the 2016 MLK kick-off on January 9 at Harris-Stowe State University.

If the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency decides to build its new Western Headquarters in North St. Louis, nearly 40 percent of all labor hours on the $1.75 billion construction will go to minorities, according to documents provided by U.S. Senator Roy Blunt.

Blunt shared with The American a February 9 letter to him from Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of St. Louis (AFL-CIO). The letter summarizes a Community Workforce Agreement that Aboussie had sent on behalf of the council to Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), who is expected to announce the new site for NGA West this month.

In the agreement, the council proposed that at least 37.81 percent of all labor hours on the facility would go to minorities, which more than doubles the 17 percent inclusion goals set forth in federal guidelines.

The council also proposed that at least 23.28 percent of all labor hours would go to St. Louis city residents, and 6.9 percent of all labor hours would go to women.

“We hope that this proposal will help to keep the NGA headquarters within the City of St. Louis,” Aboussie wrote to Blunt.

Blunt said $1 billion of the projected $1.75 billion for the new facility would go for construction, which would create 425 construction jobs and 250 “immediate indirect jobs” connected to the construction.

NGA West, which pays an average salary of $83,000, employs more than 3,000 people, and two-thirds of those employees live in Missouri. All of those employees pay a city earnings tax. The city would lose $2.3 million in earnings tax revenue if those jobs left the city.

Blunt, a Republican from Springfield who is running for reelection this year, serves on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. As such, he has detailed knowledge of the NGA, its mission and its director. He met personally with Cardillo about the new NGA West location twice last year, on March 4 in Washington, D.C. and on December 11 at its national headquarters in Springfield, Virginia, according to records provided by Blunt.

He met Cardillo again in Washington on January 28, joined by St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay and U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, according to Blunt’s records.

“I think I can say for the record he does seem to understand every point we are trying to make,” Blunt said of Cardillo.

One point is that North St. Louis is the only site under consideration – there are two others in south St. Louis County and one in St. Claire County, Illinois – that has received a Promise Zone designation, which gives it preferential consideration for federal resources.

“Do you really mean it, or not?” Blunt said of the Promise Zone designation. “It should give a real advantage to the location in city.”

President Barack Obama created the Promise Zone program in 2014, but the federal government has a policy dating back to the Carter administration giving “a supposed government preference for putting facilities in challenged urban areas,” Blunt said. “And there is no question that the place we’re talk about is a challenged urban area.”

The challenges make North City desirable for the social equity motives that inspired the Promise Zone designation, but the urban nature of the location is just as critical, as Blunt told Cardillo.

“How do you recruit the new work force, the people with the inclination and skill to do these technical jobs?” Blunt said. “They’re likely to want to live downtown, car-optional, not spend a long time getting to work. Where they might want to live 10 or 20 years after they start doesn’t matter. What matters is getting them to want to come to work on the first day. That gives a huge advantage to the city location.”

Blunt said that Cardillo also appreciates that there has been a strong community push for the city site, not just from city and federal legislators, but from trade unions (such as Aboussie’s letter), pastors and state legislators. Last session, the General Assembly passed House Bill 514, which provided for tax increment financing for blighted areas for the proposed site. And on February 9, the Missouri Senate adopted a resolution urging the NGA to remain in St. Louis.

“I’ve told Mayor Francis Slay, we will back him up on whatever he needs to do to keep the NGA here in the Show-Me State,” said Senate Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin. “Staying in St. Louis city will bring a huge economic development advantage to the entire state.”

Blunt told The American, “I’ve talked to Ron Richards a lot” about NGA West.

Blunt also credited County Executive Steve Stenger with helping unify the state and regional push for the North City location. Stenger wrote a letter to Cardillo on September 4 expressing his “unconditional support” for the North City location.

“That was one of the big moments,” Blunt said. “I was surprised by it.”

Blunt pointed out that the current director of national intelligence, General James R. Clapper, previously directed the NGA, 2001-6. “So the person at the top of the intel community totally understands how important NGA is,” Blunt said, “and that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to keep this on track over the last handful of years.”

For the past year’s budget cycle, Blunt has helped to keep the NGA West relocation project on track by voting to authorize it on the intelligence committee (via the FY16 Intelligence Authorization Act) and to appropriate funds for continued design and engineering planning on the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

With his seat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – and, before that, on the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, when he was a member of Congress – Blunts knows intimately what is at stake, not only for St. Louis but the nation, in situating the new facility.

“This last snow storm, Springfield, Virginia totally shut down, and St. Louis, Missouri was the geospatial site for the whole United States of America,” Blunt said.

“This is really important. It’s important to the nation, and it has a significant payroll and significant impact on the city. It’s not something we want to lose.”

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