A Turning Point in Community Development: Invest STL

By Mary McMurtrey

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Mary McMurtrey is the Director of Community Engagement for the Greater Saint Louis Community Foundation. She previously served as President of the Gateway Center for Giving (formerly the Metropolitan Association for Philanthropy) for over six years. Prior to joining The Center, she served as the Executive Director of Boys Hope Girls Hope St. Louis and the Executive Director of the Wildlife Rescue Center. Before entering the field of nonprofit management, Mary was the communications officer for the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where she was recruited to create a new position within the PPRC and to direct the organization’s communications and marketing efforts as an established professional entity in the St. Louis policy arena with a focus on both regional and national issues.

This op-ed is based on Mary’s keynote speech at the Community Builders Network Awards Reception held March 31st, 2016.

It’s time that we all come together to celebrate the amazing work that we’ve been doing. So many of you, for so many years, have been doing really good work. Sometimes, you’ve been doing good work in isolation, with not a lot of people knowing about what you’re doing, or the lives and communities you’re changing. We want to do something about that.

I was approached a few years ago by Todd Swanstrom and Karl Guenther of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis to look at what other communities were doing to create community and economic development systems that bring these good things together—so that one plus one could equal three—so that we could build on successes, and take good things and really make them great. Instead of a project here, and a project there, how do we stitch everything together in a way that’s cohesive and makes everybody’s life better, healthier, and stronger?

Groups of us went to Baltimore, Cincinnati, Memphis, Cleveland, and other places to find out what other communities were doing. There were some exciting things happening around the country. We looked at that and we said, “What are some of those elements?” There’s not one-size-fits-all solution. There wasn’t some program that we could lift out of some other city and transplant to St. Louis. (And we don’t like that anyway, do we?) Instead, we looked at aspects of what was happening in other communities and said, “What do we think we could adapt to fit our community?”

Out of that process came lots of travel and many conversations. For over two years, representatives from the Community Builders Network, the Metropolitan St. Louis CRA Association, and local philanthropy came together, sat at tables, and said, “We can do this.” There’s nothing about those other communities that makes them any more special than anybody else. What they have is the will.

We have that will in this community right now. I have no doubt about it. I have seen it in all of you. We are at a turning point where fifty years from now, people will look back and say that there was a moment in St. Louis’s community where everyone came together and made a decision to do things differently. And look at where they are now.

I believe that moment is right now. And I believe that the vehicle for that pivotal change is a community and economic development system that we have named Invest STL (http://investl.org). It is a way to bring public, private, and philanthropic donors, partners, and investors together under one tent. We need one table, not a million places where everyone has to run to in order to put a deal together and make some progress. We need a cohesive system that works for everyone. And we believe that we’re going to have that in Invest STL.

I’d like to invite everyone to find ways to participate in being a champion for doing business differently in our community. We have galvanized our local leadership to say: “It’s time for us to be open for business with Invest STL.” We are here. And we want to celebrate what’s happening in your communities and find ways to support the good work that you’re doing. Because without you, none of this would be happening.

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