The State of Manufacturing in St. Louis

St. Louis Makes works to build resilience and competitiveness in local manufacturing systems. In keeping with this mission, its latest work examines barriers to sales growth, talent retention, and ownership transition facing companies in the city’s under-appreciated middle market manufacturing cluster. This work explores patterns of investment and innovation in the experiences of a network of St. Louis-based manufacturing executives, considering implications for both enterprise-level business planning and local economic development policy.

What is industrial retention?

A diverse ecosystem of manufacturers has driven innovation and economic development in the St. Louis region for nearly a century. From the city’s legacy of primary metals production and fabrication driving innovations in parts suppliers in the auto industry to the persistence of beverage manufacturers driving a proliferation of microbreweries in many of today’s neighborhoods, the spillovers of local production have become essential things St. Louisans love about their city. Even in spite of its importance, the firm-level needs of the city’s manufacturing base have received little rigorous analysis or scrutiny from the local economic development community. This analysis proposes, proposing a paradigm of “industrial retention” for economic development policy in St. Louis.

Project Priorities

In partnership with Saint Louis University, St. Louis Makes has commissioned an investigation of role of middle market manufacturers in St. Louis’ economic development strategy. In its exploration of the state of manufacturing in St. Louis, stakeholders are meeting with executives of St. Louis-based corporations to explore their actual competitive advantages and barriers to action.

Product & Process Innovation

Small companies across industries under-invest in new product development. Path dependence, risk aversion, capital constraints, and lack of access to knowledge networks lead to the self-defeating cycle of refining ever-less competitive product lines upon which many city manufacturers depend for business. Strengthening institutions for knowledge sharing and access to patient financing across industries and firm sizes can improve the capacity of today’s manufacturers to meet the demands of tomorrow’s customers.

Workforce Development

Small manufacturers take a larger risk when making a new hire. Workers in small firms must manage complex floor and sales processes, but few companies have the resources or planning capacities to build up their next generations. Modifying workforce development and technical assistance services to support apprenticeship, management transition, and employee ownership can help companies transition to the next generation.


​Small manufacturers remain in the city to take advantage of the robust information and infrastructure systems that support sales growth, but critical infrastructure have experienced decades of degradation. ​Aging facilities constrain companies’ capacities to increase sales, both through equipment upgrades, and through the development of digital sales strategies, increasing flows of capital out of the community. Making creative investments in facilities and infrastructure in existing networks can dramatically increases SME capacity.


The State Manufacturing: Firm-Level Competitiveness in St. Louis’ Middle Market

Coming: March 22, 2018 – After months of outreach and one-on-one discussions with executives in St. Louis’ manufacturing community, we are excited to announce the release of our first report. The report will cover initial findings from interviews, reflections on the state of manufacturing in the city, and subsequent research being conducted by St. Louis Makes in partnership with Saint Louis University.

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