The Next Generation of Local Patriots in St. Charles County

By Greg Prestemon 

Read any article about the future, and what you read about is a lot of things. What I mean by “things” is stuff we buy, or stuff someone will buy.

Self-driving cars and trucks.

Phones equipped with augmented and/or virtual reality capability.

Smart-hoodies that automatically adjust to make us warmer or colder.

Robots to do all our jobs.

All this stuff, these things we’ll buy, is disruptive and important to talk about. But while we spend a lot of time and digital space talking and writing about the things that will come next, we spend relatively little time talking about the people who will make this brave new world work.

In other words, for all the time we spend talking about the technological feasibility of a self-driving semi-truck, we spend very little time talking about the type of leaders we’ll need to help navigate an economy that might see millions of truckers lose their jobs in a short period of time. Similarly, we spend a lot of time and digital space talking and writing about the enormous changes happening in the retail sector, but very little time talking about the type of leadership we need at the local government level when communities that rely on retail sales taxes no longer have that revenue stream.

It’s easy to talk about things. Developing a new generation of smartphones is easier than a developing a new generation of leaders. That’s not my opinion—we get new iPhones every fall. New leaders are much rarer, but developing future leadership is particularly important, especially at the local level.

Over the past 24 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with a particularly dedicated and impactful group of local leaders. The Partners group within the St. Charles County EDC Business & Community Partners is the definition of “Local Patriotism,” and their time and energy have made a big difference. Their leadership is one reason why St. Charles County has become one of Missouri’s healthiest, most economically vibrant places.

Developing the next generation of forward-thinking leadership is important in every community. I’m proud to say that topic was the focus of our recent Partners’ strategic planning meeting.

It’s easy—far too easy—to talk about all the perceived faults of younger generations. Older people have been complaining about younger people as long as there have been, well, people. But complaining about young people is as wrong now as it was in Socrates’ day. In every community, especially the one I live in, you can find young people stepping up and doing great things.

It’s time we give those young leaders a seat at the table and listen to what they say, rather than assume we understand them just because we’ve read 1,000 different articles about how awful millennials are.

Technology is important, but the future will be shaped by people. Getting older isn’t as glamorous as it sounds, but one of the really good things about leaving your days as a sex symbol behind (and for Greg Prestemon, those days are well behind) is that you know ordinary people have an immense capacity to solve big problems and do great things, if they accept the challenge.

It will be a big challenge to identify and develop our next generation of leaders, far bigger than creating the next generation of smartphones, smart cars, or smart robots.

But I know we are up to the challenge.

Greg Prestemon is President and CEO of the St. Charles County EDC Business and Community Partners.