by Greg Prestemon
When James Fallows, writer for The Atlantic, visited towns across America last year, he found 11 signs a community would succeed. One of those signs was the presence of “local patriots.”
What did he mean by local patriots?
Is a local patriot the person in your neighborhood who has a gigantic American flag—the one rivaling the size of their house—in their front yard?
A local patriot might have a gigantic American flag, but it’s not a requirement.
Local patriots are leaders who know your community’s story and tell that story to everyone they meet. A local patriot can be a politician, a business leader, or even just a passionate, dedicated citizen. Fallows visited one town where the local patriot was a folk musician who doubled as a very effective community organizer.
I didn’t grow up in St. Charles county, or in the St. Louis region. Though I’m no longer an “outsider,” I can still remember how I immediately knew that this community was different:
Our local patriots were engaged and ready to make a difference.
Our local patriots believe in St. Charles County. They want to grow, innovate, and build a community that can provide their children and grandchildren the same standard of living and quality of life they enjoy, even in the face of a rapidly changing economy.
They pour their time, energy, and money into doing new and exciting things for the place they call home. Some of these patriots are entrepreneurs, some are politicians, and some are executives at important local companies. Some of our patriots are just ordinary people who care deeply about the community they grew up in.
While their backgrounds are different, our local patriots are united by an ethic of service.
And our local patriots have accomplished a lot in the nearly 25 years I’ve been in this position. They’ve helped lead the charge on the Missouri Research Park, the Page Extension, Streets of St. Charles, the EDC Incubator, OPO Startups, and many, many other important projects.
These local patriots were here during the tough times as well and helped our community recover from adversity, including the floods of 1993 and the Great Recession.
In the process they’ve made our county one of the best places in the country to live and work—and that’s not just bragging. The City of St. Charles was recently named one of the 25 best places to start a technology company, and the City of O’Fallon was named the 5th best place in the entire country to live.
Part of the reason our local patriots have accomplished so much is because 15 years ago they decided to formalize their efforts. In 2001 the St. Charles County Partners for Progress formed under the umbrella of the EDC, and for the past 15 years this group has been at the forefront of some our county’s most exciting accomplishments.
The Partners’ focus on education, quality of life, and entrepreneurship continues to make our county one of the fastest growing, most dynamic communities in the country.
And local patriotism is not just a St. Charles County thing. On the other side of the Missouri River local patriots like Travis Sheridan of Venture Café and Ginger Imster of Arch Grants—among many, many others—are helping put St. Louis and the entire region on the map as one of the country’s premier entrepreneurial hubs.
But our work isn’t complete.
Creating strong communities is a constant process, not an end goal.
We need a new generation of local patriots to step up—and I believe they will. I believe they will in part because so many of us, including young people, feel disaffected and hopeless about national politics.
But many of these same people understand—or can be shown—that you can make a huge difference at the local level.
They understand there are plenty of reasons for hope in our communities and towns.
They know you can’t wait for the president—any president—to create the type of community you want to see. That work begins at home. It begins when you learn the local story and start becoming a part of making that story even better.
It begins when you become a local patriot.
So, join us—we need you.
Greg Prestemon is President and CEO of the St. Charles County EDC Business and Community Partners.