ST. LOUIS – There's big economic news for St. Louis.
The Cortex Innovation District in the Central West End has a new boss after a hugely successful first decade under the leadership of outgoing chief, Dennis Lower, who announced his departure a year ago.
Cortex, a collaboration between Washington University, BJC Healthcare, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, St. Louis University, and the Missouri Botanical Garden, is quietly transforming part of the city's core.
Sam Fiorello, the incoming President & CEO, sat down with Fox 2 for an exclusive interview Friday.
Cortex is 200 acres with two-million square-feet of new business development just east of Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Projects like Phase 2 of Ballpark Village, the new MLS stadium downtown, and the new NGA headquarters in north St. Louis get more attention than the 425 tech companies and 6,000 new jobs added by Cortex.
That’s okay, Fiorello says; resting on his laurels is not.
“You have to have a mix of both ability to attract young talent to your region but at the same time, to mine the untapped talent that you have in your communities,” he said.
For more than 20 years, Fiorello has served as Chief Operating Officer of the Danforth Plant Science Center in Olivette, which has coupled top minds from around the world with workers educated and trained at St. Louis-area universities and community colleges (largely people of color) to become a leader in research focused on feeding the world without destroying the environment.
“The idea there is every one of these labs in the life sciences industry needs to have skilled hands at the bench. They don’t need to have a Ph.D. They need to know how to run experiments,” he said.
Cortex, he said, could do the same; collaborating with companion efforts like the T-REX Innovation Center, while expanding partnerships with city’s strengths: the medical, educational, financial tech communities.
“Those are all things we can leverage, to articulate a case that we’re special and you should look here and it’s a great place to grow your business or start to grow your career,” Fiorello said. “You can talk about tens of thousands of additional jobs; hundreds and hundreds of new companies; workforce development programs that are not only flourishing but have become best in class in the nation, so others are looking to come into St. Louis to say, ‘Wow, they did this right.’ This is our best hope. In the 20-plus, 25 years I’ve lived in St. Louis, I’ve never been more optimistic about our chances.”
This father of three who moved here when his wife landed a job 25 years ago, moves into his new post next month.