Great Neighborhoods Are Needed to Attract Millennial Workers: Cortex and NGA Belong Together

By Dennis Lower

Dennis Lower is president and CEO of Cortex.


The Cortex Innovation Community is a 200-acre urban innovation district that is a 10-minute drive from the proposed location for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in St. Louis. Cortex is a very strong reason why NGA should choose the St. Louis site.

Cortex is a growing mixed-use technology hub that today supports more than 200 companies in the bioscience, IT and engineering sectors, providing nearly 4,000 district jobs toward our goal of 13,000 tech-related jobs and 300 companies in the decade ahead.

As NGA evaluates its alternatives, the choice is not just about today, but how well its new location will attract the brightest and best talent for decades to come. Fundamentally, site selection for a technology enterprise is driven less by physical infrastructure and more by intellectual infrastructure. That’s why the Cortex Innovation Community is located in the city of St. Louis, and why the NGA will benefit by being our neighbor.

Built on a solid vision of leveraging our region’s university and corporate research, Cortex has achieved remarkable growth in the last five years because we recognized what our assets are, what our workforce wants, and what our value proposition is to the startup and established corporate communities in the greater St. Louis region.

We are a city with incredible physical and human infrastructure: great cultural institutions, great academic institutions, great restaurants, great recreational venues and great historic neighborhoods. These are elements that strongly appeal to the increasingly millennial workforce who often seek to build their future in urban environments where steps, not miles, separate them from where they live, work and play.

Today, more than one in three American workers are millennials, growing to 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. Direct access to this talent pool is one important reason why some of our largest regional Fortune 500 companies have established a presence in Cortex.

Cortex has learned that to develop a nationally and internationally recognized innovation hub, we must intentionally create an environment that supports the lifestyle and workstyle preferences of today’s workforce — a generation that approaches the integration of live-work-play much more intentionally than Gen-Xers and Boomers. Cortex is purposely connecting to St. Louis’ core urban assets, as well as developing vibrant mixed-use environments that foster creative interactions and “collisions” among bright, socially conscious, innovative, creative people.

Nothing better demonstrates the results of our efforts than what happens every Thursday between 3 and 8 p.m. in Venture Café @4240, where 500 to 600 innovative, creative people drop by to network, socialize and get a weekly dose of entrepreneurial food-for-thought. On display every week is the heart and soul of the Cortex Innovation Community. It is arguably the most inclusive gathering anywhere in the St. Louis region by age, ethnicity, educational attainment and technology mix, and it is the largest weekly gathering of entrepreneurs in the nation; yes, in the Midwest city of St. Louis!

NGA moving closer to Cortex would be very beneficial to both of our technology-driven missions. Our proximity and that of our university sponsors would support NGA’s talent acquisition efforts, and NGA’s presence will encourage startup tech companies aligned with NGA’s mission to find a home in St. Louis and the Cortex District, where they can experience a supportive entrepreneurial environment with an abundance of startup programming.

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.