Historically, one popular catch phrase that summed up St. Louis was “first in booze, first in shoes, and last in the American League.”
That description was from the middle of the previous century, when the city was known for its number and output of breweries, its pre-eminence in shoe production, and, alas, for the St. Louis Browns consistently finishing last in the American League.
Long ago the brewery on Pestalozzi Street lost its distinction of being the largest single-site brewery for production of beer. That status was taken over by the Coors brewery in Golden, Co. Anheuser Busch was taken over by InBev, and the new beer magnate maintains the top ranking in overall beer production, though the international headquarters are no longer in St. Louis.
Shoe factories are gone too, and the Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles in 1953.
How do we describe St. Louis now? It depends on who does the measuring, and how dependable the metric is. Some rankings matter, others don’t.
Consider these rankings: St. Louis is #1 for new ballpark food, it’s one of the seven most underrated cocktail cities in America, it’s 9th for dog attacks on letter carriers, and it is the 6th manliest city.
St. Louis also ranks 3rd for change in adults with Bachelor’s degrees, 8th for racial disparity in unemployment, 26th for transit ridership, and 13th for no-internet households.
The list of rankings goes on and on.
While the first four rankings are light-hearted, it is hard to determine if they have factual basis, or how the rankings were derived. Further, if the geographic unit for the measurement is varied, it can vastly change the results.
Perhaps that is how the city of St. Louis is ranked the happiest city in America by Jetpac City Guides but the metro area is the 7th unhappiest, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Although varying methods, such as flipping through online photos versus a survey of life satisfaction, could also account for the different results.
The latter four rankings mentioned above will be part of the 7th Edition of East-West Gateway’s series of publications, Where We Stand (WWS). WWS provides over 100 rankings that are objective, verifiable and use a consistent geographic boundary.
This summer the agency will produce the 7th Edition of WWS. It will cover topics important to the St. Louis region, including population, employment, high-speed internet access, college attainment, and toxic chemical releases. It does not include a ranking on how tasty the cocktails are but does include a ranking on binge drinking. Related? You decide. EWG supplies the data and invites you to use the information to determine what the numbers mean for the region.
Leading up to the release of WWS 7th Edition, the EWG blog will feature commentaries from people who work in various fields in the St. Louis area. The blog posts will touch on a handful of the data points that will be covered in the 7th Edition and will provide some context to the data.
EWG has been ranking St. Louis among its peer metropolitan regions since 1992. For the 7th Edition, we’ve made a few changes.
We expanded the list of “peer regions.”
The WWS tables will now compare St. Louis among the 50 metropolitan regions in the United States with the largest populations. For the first WWS publication peer regions were chosen if they met one of two criteria: the region had a population of 950,000 or more and was within 500 miles of St. Louis or if the area had an economic function similar to that of the St. Louis region. This resulted in 30 regions. In 1996, five regions were added to the list. The growth in population and employment in these five regions was seen as an indication that they were important to the national arena, and therefore competitive with St. Louis. To remain consistent across publications EWG continued with these 35 peer regions for the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Editions.
Over the last 20 years, the economic functions of regions have changed, as have the number of people living in metros across the U.S. It became clear that the list of 35 regions was missing some of the St. Louis region’s peers – metropolitan areas that compete with St. Louis for jobs, people, and resources.
Among the 50 WWS peer regions, St. Louis now stands at 19th for population (it was 17th among the 35 regions.) Riverside and Tampa were previously left off the list. All 50 of the regions have a population over 1 million.
For the first edition of WWS, regions that were chosen as peers due to the similar economic function criteria were determined based on an academic study. Much has changed in the past 20 years – both the composition of the St. Louis region’s economy as well as the economies of others. Employment in four of the new 15 peer regions – San Jose, Hartford, Buffalo, and Providence – has a larger proportion of manufacturing jobs than St. Louis (15.8, 9.8, 9.5, 9.1 and 8.6 percent of total employment, respectively.) Two of the new regions have a larger proportion of jobs in the health care sector – Providence (17.4 percent) and Hartford (16.0 percent.) Twelve of the 15 new peer regions join St. Louis in the bottom 20 (among the 50 peer regions) for gross metropolitan product (GMP) per capita. The regions that we are competing with for jobs have arguably changed.
We highlight the Midwest Regions
We recognize that data for 50 regions is a lot to take in. St. Louis continues to be highlighted on each WWS table. Now, the nine peer regions located in the Midwest are highlighted as well. These regions are geographically close to St. Louis and share similar histories and patterns of development as the St. Louis region.
We added data for the United States
“How does St. Louis compare to the U.S.?” This is a question we are often asked when talking about the regional comparisons. So, we added the national data to the WWS tables, when possible. In some cases, data for that national number is not available or does not make sense. For these tables we include a “peer average.” This is a weighted average for all of the peer regions in the table. Previously, each WWS table featured an “average.” This was a simple average of the data compiled for the peer regions. While this average provides the reader a point of reference, it does not take into account differences in the regions, such as population size. For example, transit ridership measures the number of boardings on transit. The simple average for the 50 peer region is 29.5 annual boardings per capita. The weighted average is 54.8 boardings per capita. The simple average is lower due to the number of regions with smaller populations that do not have many transit options. The weighted average reflects how many boardings there are among all residents in the peer regions.
We did NOT change using objective, reliable, verifiable data.
The regions continue to be ranked in an objective manner. We do not present the data in ways that project a bias or cast a judgement. The format of the WWS tables reflects this objectivity. The region with the highest numerical value is ranked “1”. The purpose of this document is not to make judgement calls but to provide the data for others to use in making decisions. Admittedly, this format choice for some tables can be confusing since we often want to think of #1 as being the best or most desired rank.
We use a consistent geographic boundary – the metropolitan statistical area (MSA). An MSA is a federally designated geography that groups counties in the United States together based on the number of residents who commute to the central core counties for work (and vice versa). The counties that comprise each MSA are a socially and economically connected unit that can be compared to other areas that have similar connections. The MSA for St. Louis includes 15 counties. (Read about the most recent changes to MSA boundary delineations on the EWG blog.) There are a few instances where a subset of the MSA is used (for example, the largest city in each MSA, or the largest county) or where old MSA boundaries are used. These cases will be noted in the table header or at the end of each chapter.
Information about the data sources and notes on how calculations were made is provided. The original source can be verified. In an effort to provide reliable data, we check the sources, studies and surveys on which the data are based for rigorous methods.
In coming weeks check back here for WWS Preview Blog posts leading up to the release of the 7th Edition of Where We Stand this summer. Or, to get updates in your inbox, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to subscribe to the WWS email list.
Lastly, check out the summary report of a survey we conducted to gain feedback on how Where We Stand is being used and how it can be revised to be of most use to current and potential users. The survey is closed but we continue to welcome your feedback. Contact us at email@example.com.