As a lifelong East Coaster, Ascension CCO Nick Ragone did not know much about St. Louis, Missouri, before moving there earlier this year for his new role at the healthcare system, but already says the city is one of the "best kept secrets in America."
"A lot of people from the East Coast don’t know much about St. Louis, but they would fall in love with it," Ragone explains.
For PR pros in particular, the communications scene is "interesting and vibrant," he adds. There are many local agencies with national clients, such as Byrne PR, digital marketing firm Twist, and Switch PR, which partners with Ascension. More recently, St. Louis-based Common Ground Public Relations came into the spotlight for assisting the media relations team of Ferguson, Missouri, as the city struggled with the aftermath of the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
FleishmanHillard’s headquarters is in St. Louis, yet one drawback to the city’s PR and communications market is that not every big firm has an office there, Ragone says. However, the city has a strong network of PR freelancers, what he calls a community of "expats from big agencies."
"I’ve been pleasantly surprised that there are a lot of great resources here to help us with national work," he adds.
St. Louis might soon offer more opportunities for tech PR pros. Last year, Dice.com ranked the region among the fastest-growing US cities for tech jobs after openings in the sector rose 25% between 2012 and 2013.
Jim McKelvey, a St. Louis native and cofounder of mobile payments company Square, is among those trying to remake the city as an innovation hub.
He founded the group LaunchCode last year to connect developers with mentors with the aim of filling programming jobs in St. Louis’ tech market.
The city is also home to Fortune 500 companies including prescription drug plan manager Express Scripts, agriculture company Monsanto, and utility holding company Ameren. Purina is also based in St. Louis, as is Anheuser-Busch InBev’s North America unit.
The University of Missouri, located about two hours away in Columbia, offers a strategic communications program with courses in areas including PR, account management, and media planning. That program, as well as the business school at Washington University in St. Louis, is a "good feeder" for talent in the city, Ragone adds.
Education nonprofit Enstitute expanded its apprenticeship program to the city earlier this year, with the goal of bringing 100 budding young professionals to St. Louis and placing them with local businesses.
Ragone also cites a lower cost of living, more manageable pace of life, less traffic, and family friendly activities as major draws to the city.
1. Ragone’s favorite place for a business lunch is Café Napoli at 7754 Forsyth Blvd. in Clayton, Missouri. To unwind, he likes Remy’s Kitchen & Wine Bar, 222 South Bemiston Ave., Clayton, Missouri.
2. The population of St. Louis County is 1,001,444, according to 2013 data from the US Census Bureau.
3. More than 50 startups launched last year in the St. Louis area, more than any other year in the city’s history, according to the St. Louis Regional Chamber.Thirty-seven were in the technology sector.
4. Venture capital investment in Missouri in 2013 was $74.1 million, more than triple the prior year, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.
5. In the past decade, 20- to 34-year-olds moved to St. Louis at a higher rate than at any time in the past half century, according to data from Net Migration Patterns for US Counties.
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