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Commentary Detail

Corporate HQs Leaving St. Louis
Commentary by: Tom Schlafly
Aired June 14, 2012

A consistent lament among many St. Louisans is that our regionís best days are in the distant past. Never again will we compete with world class cities to host the Olympic Games. Today we canít even compete with Charlotte, which was chosen over St. Louis to host this yearís Democratic National Convention. We havenít hosted a national convention since 1916, which was before women were allowed to vote.

A major component of our sense of regional decline is the perception that St. Louis is losing corporate headquarters. Some would say the trend started in 1939 when Shell Oil left its headquarters in Downtown St. Louis. More recently, our civic leaders have collectively mourned the acquisition by out of town conglomerates of such beloved St. Louis companies as McDonnell-Douglass, Ralston Purina, Pulitzer, A. G. Edwards and May Company. We fretted over the departure of Southwestern Bell before it was ultimately swallowed up by AT & T. And perhaps the greatest wound of all to our civic psyche was the acquisition of Anheuser-Busch by InBev.

This narrative of loss, disturbing as it is, overlooks the companies that have moved their headquarters from elsewhere to St. Louis. A prime example is Graybar, which relocated here from New York, leaving just its name on the famous skyscraper on Lexington Avenue. This narrative also ignores companies based in St. Louis that have acquired businesses all over the world and now have a dominant global presence: companies such as Emerson, Peabody Energy, Enterprise and Monsanto.

Despite these and other impressive local success stories, people still worry that businesses are leaving St. Louis. Even more worrisome is the conventional wisdom that the business climate in St. Louis is not conducive to start-ups, unlike, for example, places like Silicon Valley. Is the conventional wisdom true?

Some St. Louisans might be surprised to learn that the biggest local company by far, at least according to its rank among the Fortune 500, was founded as recently as 1986. Iím talking about Express Scripts. Following its acquisition of Medco, the company now has annual revenue of more than $116 billion. This number puts Express Scripts easily among the top 20 companies nationwide in Fortuneís ranking and is several times the annual revenue of the next largest company based in St. Louis. Itís also triple the annual revenue of AB InBev.

By way of additional context, Express Scriptsí annual revenue put it ahead of Apple, which was founded in 1976. Its revenue was 65% higher than that of Microsoft, which was founded in 1975; more than triple that of Google; and also more than triple that of Oracle, which was founded in 1977.

The world of business is dynamic. Corporations relocate. Long-established companies fail. Start-ups can experience extraordinary growth. The loss of some corporate headquarters in St. Louis is just part of the story. We also need to recognize the remarkable success stories in our midst.

(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Tom Schlafly

Tom Schlafly


Tom Schlafly is an attorney in St. Louis.

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