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St. Louis Regional Chamber looks full speed ahead

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, February 28, 2018 at 10:00:00 am 

St. Louis, Missouri’s newest venture sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. The city is vying to become the first in the world to host a hyperloop—a proposed mode of high-speed transportation, in which passengers travel in pods that levitate magnetically in systems of airless tubes.

It’s doing it through the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, a competition in which metro regions from around the world propose prospective routes to house the first-ever hyperloop built by Virgin Hyperloop One, the Los Angeles-based company looking to commercialize hyperloops as a more efficient mode of transit.

At just over a half-hour, the planned route between St. Louis and Kansas City would shave roughly three-and-a-half hours off the current commute by car between the two major population centers.

“If we can link St. Louis and Kansas City into a single megaregion, we would have more than 5 million people in that workforce,” said Andrew Smith, vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation at the St. Louis Regional Chamber. “That would catapult us to the 9th largest economic development region in the country.”

To promote the proposal, the chamber teamed up with the University of Missouri System, the Kansas City Tech Council, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Columbia Innovation Center and others to form the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition. The coalition’s first move was to raise $1.5 million for an engineering feasibility study, which began in February and will run through the end of the summer.

“Right now, we are one of only two regions in the country that are at that stage—the other being Colorado,” said Smith, adding that, “Virgin Hyperloop One is now calling us one of the top three routes under consideration in the world.”

When the study wraps up in August, the coalition will have the benefit of a detailed roadmap, with details on costs, route alignment, regulatory framework and environmental impact. Following that, the focus will shift to onboarding additional partners with the capabilities to build the large-scale project.

“This is mostly a private-sector-led effort, and we’ve been very up-front about the fact that we aren’t using taxpayer money to fund it,” said Smith. “This is going to be more like building an airline or railroad than a public highway. We just have to find the right partners to build, own and operate it.”

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Tags: #MetroCities, #MidwesternChambers, Economic Developmen, Hyperloop, Technology, Transportation

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Advocating for education

Ben Goldstein on Friday, February 2, 2018 at 11:13:00 am 

The EdUp campaign was launched in 2013 by the Bristol County Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with leaders from the business and education communities. The campaign, which began as an advocacy effort to preserve funding levels to Fall River Public Schools, has since grown into a multi-year marketing push to promote the importance of education in southeastern Massachusetts.

“At its most basic, EdUp is about changing the mindset of the community,” said Rob Mellion, president and CEO of the Bristol County Chamber. “We knew we needed to get people to value education attainment if we wanted to stand a chance at turning around our school system.”

As part of the campaign, the chamber launched an aggressive marketing drive. Some of the tactics used include billboards, editorials drafted by community members and a special “EdUp Bus,” which is used for mobile ad space.

There’s also “College Day,” an annual event in which students and their parents spend a full day engaged in activities designed to get them thinking about practical ways to attend college. In addition, the education committee zeroed in on early childhood education through “parent nights,” which help parents understand how to navigate Pre-K and kindergarten on behalf of their children.

More recently, the campaign organized a summit on social and emotional learning, a specialized training that teachers had requested. During the summit, more than 220 teachers attended a mix of 40 workshops focused on supporting students’ emotional health, social skills and academic achievement.

“We have more students getting higher grades and going to college than ever before,” explained Mellion. “We used to have a 55 percent high school dropout rate; now, we have an 80 percent graduation rate. I’m proud of the work this chamber and the business community has done.”

Mellion says EdUp has lots on the agenda for 2018, like advocating for a new, $300 million high school in Fall River, adding college-level courses to area high schools and forging new partnerships with educators and nonprofits to advance its agenda.

“We’re not done with the job of changing the mindset here in the community,” he said. “We want to bring our graduation rate higher, and we want to expand this to be more of a regional campaign, affecting the entire southeastern region.”

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