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Geospatial conference launches in St. Louis, bringing a glimpse of the growing industry

Organizers are touting the way the new NGA facility at Jefferson and Cass Avenues could change the lives of people closest to it

ST. LOUIS — Years before the new National Geospatial-Intelligence facility opens in North St. Louis, the world's largest geospatial conference launched in St. Louis today, and organizers are touting way the new facility at Jefferson & Cass Aves. could change the lives of people closest to it.

"You can't pursue what you're not aware of, right? So first having access to that is I think life-changing in and of itself," Zekita Armstrong Asuquo, Chair & CEO of Gateway Global American Youth and Business Alliance, said of the job opportunities the new facility brings.

Talking on an afternoon panel at the GEOINT Symposium, Armstrong Asuquo said her organization teaches skills that candidates need for entry-level careers at the government site and their big-name industry partners. The jobs pay $35,000-$45,000 a year, well above what some of the families closest to the site might be making now.

"[It] is pretty remarkable for a family that has been probably living with four or five people in the house at $17,000-$20,000 a year," she said.

"The recurring theme I have heard from people in the neighborhood when we have open houses or have a visit, it's always a parent or grandparent oftentimes with a young teenager saying 'I want to know how my son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter can come to work for NGA,'" Sue Pollmann, Program Director for Next NGA Campus West, said.

The construction site is still taking shape, but organizers say the $1.7 billion investment benefits the region and those closest to it. 

"The federal government has a lot of programs and emphasis on developing and serving underrepresented communities, communities where there has been a lot of disinvestment over the years," she said.

As the North St. Louis site grows, so does Armstrong Asuquo's mission. She said they're expanding so they can train for even more career paths.

"We can reach thousands of young people each year and get them on pathways that are related to this industry, and really change lives. And change the community," Armstrong Asuquo said.

The GEOINT Symposium is scheduled to return to St. Louis in 2023 and 2025, the latter being the opening date for that new NGA West site.

The mayor's office announced Wednesday they're working on a development plan for the six neighborhoods closest to the site with more information to come in the following weeks.