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How Utilities can be a Partner in Economic Development

Because of their involvement with local economic development, electric utilities can play a very useful role in helping businesses get off to a great start in Missouri.

At first glance, electric utilities aren’t often perceived as a go-to resource for businesses looking to start or expand their operations. Many individuals see them as an important, but not all-encompassing, piece of a larger puzzle that includes workforce, related industry presence, utilities, suitable sites, logistics, available infrastructure, taxation and regulatory issues.

Utilities' Role in Important Economic Development Matters

In fact, electric utilities play important roles in all of the above, and perhaps that’s a little less than surprising considering the enormous importance of reliable, affordable electric power for any business.

Utilities are deeply engaged with local and state governments and new economic development organizations. The assets and expertise they use to support current customers are precisely the tools they routinely use to plan and engineer the right energy solutions for new or expanding businesses. And they have an extraordinarily well-trained eye on supplying reliable, affordable energy long-term, which is an imperative for business site selection decision making.

Taking the Lead On Many Fronts

A case in point is the leading role Ameren Missouri took in the establishment of Gateway Studios and Production Services, slated to open in 2023 in Chesterfield, Missouri. Ameren Missouri has provided assistance from the inception of the project, offering engineering services, a powerful economic development incentive, and forward-looking planning for energy efficiency and expansion.

When completed, this facility will be among the nation’s most sophisticated for turnkey production service solutions for the live music touring, motion picture/television and corporate event industries. It will provide exceptionally large studio spaces, lighting, film production capabilities, state-of-the-art digital production assets and huge rehearsal spaces to support stadium-sized performances like halftime shows.

The Role of Utility, State and Local Incentives: A Winning Combination

Incentives often play critical roles in economic development--and attracting the Gateway facility to the Greater St. Louis was empowered by several very attractive economic development incentives. One was Ameren Missouri’s Economic Development Incentive, among the most powerful economic development incentives in the nation. It provides qualified growing businesses one of the most competitive discounts from base electric rates that are already below Midwest and national averages.

To support economic development in Missouri, the state committed up to $2.9 million in subsidies through its Missouri Works program. A local economic development incentive comes from St. Louis County, which offered a 50%, 10-year abatement on real and personal property, as well as up to $130 million in Chapter 100 industrial development bonds.

Getting Connected Through Regional Relationships

Successful economic development is seldom the work of a single organization. Instead, multi-entity relationships help attract prospective businesses and work together to initiate projects and see them to completion. On the Gateway Studios project, for example, Ameren Missouri saw early involvement through its close relationship with AllianceSTL, the primary economic development organization for Greater St. Louis. Ameren also made connections and worked closely with ARCO Construction, the general contractor for the project.

Power Planning and Start-to-Finish Engineering Services

Utilities are typically closely involved, serving as early starters on larger-scale projects like this one. First, Ameren’s engineering team worked with the Gateway organization to determine that General Service Secondary power delivery would best meet the center’s initial and longer-term needs. As development of the project continues through construction and toward commissioning, Ameren’s engineering team remains actively involved to provide expertise and engineering services for line extension, connection and in-facility electrical systems.

During the planning process, Ameren also worked with the Gateway team to help them understand how to integrate future energy efficiency and electrification features into the facility design, such as electric vehicle charging.

Bringing Exciting Opportunities

“We are excited that the country’s largest music and video manufacturing center is being built in St. Louis County,” said St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page. “The County is the economic engine of the region. Gateway Studios and this new industry for our region brings with it more jobs and more investment opportunities.”1

Putting Together the Whole Package Against Stiff Competition

Rob Dixon, Director, Economic & Community Development at Ameren, said “When completed, the first phase of the Gateway Studios and Production Services facility will employ over 100 highly skilled professionals and spur the development of an ecosystem of talent and supporting businesses with exciting potential for growth -- for an industry that hasn’t had a major presence in our state in quite some time.”

“But it’s much more than that,” continues Mr. Dixon. “Greater St. Louis and the state of Missouri captured this project against very strong competition from cities in Tennessee and Georgia, where the presence of the entertainment industry is well-entrenched. That’s a testament to the success of economic development in Missouri, when multiple agencies can collaborate to show a unique industry that Missouri is the right place to grow.”

1 Reischman, Alex. November 12, 2021. Gateway Studios Groundbreaking. STL Partnership. https://stlpartnership.com/gateway-studios-groundbreaking/

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