Two years after STLMade’s launch, Greater St. Louis, Inc. CEO Jason Hall reflects on how perception of the region is changing
Two years ago, on March 14, STLMade, a movement that sheds light on the people and positive stories that make up St. Louis to fuel regional pride and growth, launched with a celebration during Cortex’s weekly Venture Café event . They named it 3.14 Day, an allusion to the area code, and broke the attendance record for Venture Café – no, like all Venture Cafés worldwide. Now under the new umbrella of Greater St. Louis, Inc., STLMade decided that one day wasn’t enough this year. It was launched for a full week called #LoveLocalSTL to encourage St. Louisans to support their favorite local businesses through Sunday. Every day has a special carryout topic (today it’s “Cheers, It’s Friday!” And we couldn’t agree more. You can find more information about the theme days in our story here).
Two years later, in the midst of a pandemic, we met with Jason Hall, CEO of Greater St. Louis, Inc. to learn more about STLMade’s progress and the direction the region is headed.
What was the goal two years ago when you launched STLMade?
When we rolled out national best practices and looked around, one of the things you need to do is manage the reputation and voice of your region as it has a huge impact on economic growth. Why does talent choose to be here? Why do companies want to be here? And St. Louis was in sharp contrast to places like Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Denver, which have decades of commitments to having a program with a positive, original voice. By the way, it doesn’t mean papering up problems. But you have to draw on your strengths and curate your story: who are you, what do you stand for, what is the place like, who are the people? The aim was therefore to bring this unified narrative to life in order to shed light on positive things. This is not something that you will solve in a year or two. At the time we started this, the region didn’t even have a chief marketing officer on these citizen platforms. We believe we have a great story to tell, tremendous dynamism, amazing people. And that was the goal: Bringing the region together, creating the tools to tell a story together in a very collaborative way and really reflect the diversity and energy of the subway.
How do you know it works?
Early on, all of these groups came together to say that we need to do something to use our resources and tell a better story. However, when we delved into it, we assumed that St. Louis’ national reputation was negative. That was our bias. But it turned out the country didn’t even know it should have an opinion about St. Louis. It was very neutral. We have hired a company that does market research. These were proven, quantifiable studies where the national perception of St. Louis was very neutral. We knew we had the opportunity to shape it. And we knew how focus groups across the country reacted to facts they learned about St. Louis. So our rise as an entrepreneurial city? People love that. We had these market insights. But inside the subway we found a region very confused about what its future would be and the belief that the country saw us negatively. We had self-criticism. The consultants said, “If you want a long-term, clear reputation for St. Louis, you need to start locally building regional pride.”
We hired an emotional psychologist to do research on the subway every six months to really understand the perceptions and emotional connection with St. Louis. We see these numbers rise. When we started, the percentage of existing residents who would recommend St. Louis as a place to live and work was in their 20s. We are now pushing into the mid-30s.
Is the news getting to those outside of St. Louis?
Last year, when we showed up in San Antonio for the world’s biggest geospatial industry event – where St. Louis is taking a giant leap – people who once lived in St. Louis who happened to be attending that geospatial event came up to me and said, “St . Louis has always been a region that has struggled to team up, but I have to tell you, you guys look really good down here. ”
Has the pandemic changed anything?
Neither of us expected this, but you have to adapt. We didn’t do a lot of festivals and events, but STLMade became the vehicle we used to talk to the public about PPE, masking and social distancing. With this tool, we have helped companies across the subway create signage for wearing masks and the like. The Blues and Cardinals have joined this STLMade campaign promoting the wearing of masks so we can reduce community transmission. Such things are important – this is how the region developed.
How do you see STLMade’s growth?
So often, these types of campaigns just focus on the big names everyone knows and I want us to continue to be a grassroots movement that really exposes what makes this region so special and that continues to embrace the full diversity of this community both racially and racially also reflected geographically.
So many times we’ve seen ourselves as competitors internally because we’ve gotten so used to dealing with the decline. This cannot be our attitude if we want to reach our full potential and grow. Success is when every inhabitant of this region, regardless of which postcode they are born into, sees opportunities and successes within their reach.