The Next Big Game Changer For St. Louis

By Eric Friedman


Eric Friedman is a co-founder of the TOD BroadBand Fiber Collaborative, LLC, and the President of Housing and Community Solutions, Inc., a community, economic development and affordable housing developer, a champion, catalyst and collaborator. He also co-founded the Missouri Historic Tax Credit Coalition and the Transit Alliance and is active in the REALTORS Commercial Information Exchange, Lift for Life Academy Charter School, and Central Reform Congregation.  Eric has lived in University City for the last 23 years.

As a student and practitioner of community and economic development for the past 40 years, I believe the next big game changer is gigabit high-speed broadband fiber at an affordable cost, like Google Fiber in Kansas City.   Having just attended the Gigabit City Summit in Kansas City with an 8-person St. Louis delegation and having  listened to a live-stream of President Obama in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and the eloquent words of Susan Crawford, author of Captive Audience and Responsive Cities and Blair Levin of the Brookings Institution, the issue is very clear.   High-speed fiber can raise all communities in an equitable manner.

High-speed fiber is an economic and community development accelerant. Cities that have installed it, like Cedar Falls, Chattanooga, Kansas City, Lafayette (Louisiana), Austin, and Highland (Ilinois), are experiencing economic growth with  new companies and job creation. For two years we have been researching and assembling the TOD Broadband  Fiber Collaborative to bring high-speed cable to the St. Louis region and in particular, Wellston, and Olive Boulevard in University City.  High-speed fiber accelerates economic development, and it is critical to advancing equity. By providing digital inclusion and social programs that benefit all citizens, it can help to bridge the digital divide.

I have had the honor and pleasure of working with many community development practitioners on great programs that have informed my opinion and helped to rebuild our community.  Let me connect the dots for the rebuilding of our community.  St. Louis is on the move and is ready for high-speed fiber.  Mechanic’s Illustrated just named St. Louis as the number one “Maker Space” in the United States. 

Having worked with Jerry Schlichter as a co-founder of the Missouri Historic Tax Credit Coalition, (Jerry also founded Arch Grants), I have watched the rebirth of our city and neighborhoods, creating a place in St. Louis where young people and knowledge workers want to live, work and play. St. Louis now as two of the “Great Streets in America”.  In Downtown St. Louis alone, 100 buildings have been renovated and we have 5,000 new residents. CEO’s for Cities said St. Louis had the highest percentage increase of college graduates in the Central Business District than any other City in the Country. 

The Wall Street Journal called Missouri’s Historic Tax Credit (HTC) program a “model for the nation.” The HTC created 43,000 jobs in Missouri according to the Missouri Growth Study.  The HTC program laid the foundation for the entrepreneurial explosion and development we are seeing from downtown to Cortex to Dutchtown.  Another dot to connect is the formation of the Transit Alliance, a broad-based coalition that successfully campaigned for passage of the sales tax increase for Metrolink, a foundation for community change.

As Cortex works to build a Metro station, and IKEA comes to Forest Park and Vandeventer, Cambridge Innovation Community (CIC) has also come to St. Louis from MIT. CIC, founded in 1999 in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a vision of “startups make the world much better,” is now the largest innovation center in the world. This the first time they have located operations outside of Boston and they, like IKEA, chose St. Louis.  

I know we can bring high-speed fiber optic service to St. Louis.  Let’s collaborate and make this happen. Besides the great opportunity that Ferguson has given us to address community issues, high-speed fiber can serve our community and all its citizens in a positive way.  High-speed fiber can become a reality that makes our communities safer for all citizens and also for our police who are here to serve the public.   Ferguson is a wake-up call!  Will we rise to the occasion?  Together, we can make these game changers a reality!

Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the view of the Community Builders Network or Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis..