Fintech + GEOINT Synergies Driving Development in St. Louis Downtown

Written by Dick Fleming | Originally Published in Geospatial World

This tech-focused center city Innovation District is unique in several respects: one, its technology focus includes both Geospatial Intelligence and FinTech anchors, along with several other key tech institutions; and two, its downtown location spans most of the entire northern portion of St. Louis’ Central Business District.

The District also is proximate to two anchor public institutions — the now under construction 3,100- job, $1.75-billion, 1 million square foot, 100-acre National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)western headquarters, as well as with the now expanding 500,000 square foot America’s Center Convention Complex (home of the 2021 and 2023 GEOINT Symposia).

The focus of previous 2022 Geospatial World Magazine feature articles about St. Louis has been on the continued growth of Geospatial Intelligence firms and institutions and the geospatial intelligence ecosystem in the new District. This article focuses on the companion growth of the FinTech sector and its unique relationship to Geospatial growth within the St. Louis ecosystem.

Malou Damgaard of Denmark-based MapsPeople describes the relationship of Fintech and Location, “These days, Fintech is a buzzword. Already used by over 50% of financial customers worldwide, the sector is growing rapidly.” She concludes, “It is not just a trend anymore; it is an innovative industry’…it is a global movement.”

In a June 2022 article in Forbes, Enterprise Tech, “The Rise of Spatial Finance,” Brian Cross of ESRI described “Spatial Finance” as the ability to quantify and analyze the effects of business on nature and nature on business as a competitive advantage in corporate finance. He observes, “Spatial finance relies on innovative geospatial technologies including a modern geographic information system (GIS), remote sensing, and artificial intelligence.”

He concluded, “The rise of the practice is being magnified by the abundance of near real-time imagery and information generated by satellites, drones, and IoT sensors – and the use of machine-learning algorithms that rapidly process images and sensor readings for insights, anomalies, or patterns.”

The September 27, 2022, edition of Financial IT carried the headline —” How Geospatial Data Is Expected To Revolutionize Fintech & Banking.”

One of the co-founders of the Downtown North District is St. Louis-based global Fintech entrepreneur Jim McKelvey, who is also Co-Founder of Square (now BLOCK) with Jack Dorsey.

Jim spoke recently to the rationale for Fintech and Geospatial Intelligence combining to stimulate innovation: “Larger banks and financial institutions are highly regulated, which limits their ability to explore new ideas and innovate. These institutions partner with younger and more flexible technology companies to gain access to new markets and to better understand their customers. This allows the providers to create products and services that meet their needs.”

It’s in this context of innovation that McKelvey is also pursuing yet another combination of disciplines, namely, downtown revitalization, tech innovation, and real estate.

Two and a half years ago, along with his real estate partner John Berglund, the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of their real estate development firm, The StarWood Group, Berglund and McKelvey announced that they had purchased the then-headquarters of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper, and had signed a 15-year lease with San Francisco-based Square (now BLOCK) and were moving all 500 St. Louis employees of Square to the totally renovated nearly quarter million square foot Post-Dispatch Building, and making high-tech space for an eventual 1,400 employees in the building.

At the same time, the seeds were planted for the development of a multi-block downtown Innovation District, initially called the “NOW Innovation District,” referring to North of Washington, St. Louis’ initial Washington Avenue tech corridor, from which both Square and The Globe Building are two blocks north.

In their announcement of Square, McKelvey, and Berglund indicated that they “wanted more than just the Post-Dispatch building.” As the St. Louis Business Journal chronicled The StarWood Group’s intentions: “Ultimately, it came down to wanting more. They wanted more people. They wanted more growth. They wanted more vibrancy for a forgotten corner of downtown.”

John Berglund has observed, “we knew out interest had to be more than just a building. We believed the north side was an untapped opportunity.”

The decision of BLOCK/Square to locate in St Louis follows a national trend of decentralizing technology jobs outside of Silicon Valley into communities which provide more cost-efficient ways of delivering services. An excellent example is MasterCard’s decision some years ago to locate its Global Operations Headquarters and 3,500 jobs in St. Louis. Today, virtually every MasterCard transaction in the world, 24/7, every day of the year is processed thru St. Louis.

Map of the multi-block Downtown North Insight District in St. Louis

Speaking to the unique synergies of Fintech and GEOINT in the District, Berglund notes, “Integration of geospatial and fintech is a natural progression of two industries expanding rapidly. It is estimated that the Global Fintech market will hit north of $300 billion in five years. Geographic and location data are being collected daily and mined for retail advantage, climate risk, location of competitors, and so forth. This allows them to track foot traffic, demographic data, and customer preferences based on habits.”

He continued, “Banks are competing to provide an increased level of personalized service that customers see as standard. Intuitive customer interface while maintaining necessary security protocols are important on a mobile platform. Location of the nearest ATM is just assumed. Location data plays a part of this.”

St. Louis’ goal is to continue to ride that trend to showcase how St Louis continues to be the choice for other Fintech and GEOINT companies.

The STL 2030 Jobs Plan, completed last year, provides context here: noting that the 2.8 million-person St. Louis region already includes 22 Global headquarters established there; has a cost of living which is just 88% of the U.S. Average; and that there are presently over 275,000 jobs in the GEONT, Fintech and Digital Transformation sectors. Meanwhile, on the GEOINT front itself, as NGA’s new western HQ continues to progress towards a first quarter 2026 opening just several blocks from the Downtown North District,

Geospatial Intelligence firms and specialized intel facilities also continue to expand at The Globe Building. The recent location of General Dynamics at The Globe — joining MAXAR, T-Kartor, Ball Aerospace, and Geospatial World — underscores The Globe as the “location of choice for GEOINT firms in St. Louis.”

In this regard, The Globe Building was recently named the “St. Louis Development of the Year for 2022” by St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.

“The District has rapidly become the nucleus for the St. Louis effort to achieve its vision of being a global geospatial intelligence hub,” says GEOINT expert Keith Masback, currently Plum Run, LLC. “The unique combination of a startup ecosystem, world-class workplaces, and a massive multi-tenant classified space – all proximate to Next NGA West – is unparalleled and is clearly the strategic differentiator for GEOINT in St. Louis.” Masback served as CEO of the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) for over a decade.

Planning for a Community Improvement District is underway, along with long-term plans for the overall District by The StarWood Group and their civic colleagues.

Today, this unique synergy of Fintech and GEOINT is helping to chart a new north for St. Louis.