by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL
Joe Blanner, the president of Construction Forum STL and I had a conversation about what the "focused action" part of the Forum's mission statement means to each of us. The day before (June 20), we had seen the "inclusive engagement" part in action at a Forum event on the Central Corridor for which 614 people had registered. Last Friday the "unbiased communication" piece was at work when I wrote an analysis of President Trump's Executive Order on apprenticeship that 372 people clicked on in the Forum newsletter.
All of that's very edifying and we're grateful. But, as I said to Joe, "Without the action piece, we're just a media company." I worked for and ran media companies for close to five decades. It wasn't the prospect of doing the same thing that led me to sit down in 2010 and compose the concept for the Forum. It was the desire to work for change for a better future for our region.
In early 2011 I became discouraged and abandoned the Forum concept because of those who wanted it to be more about talk than action. Then in 2012, out of the blue came a young man who had found my idea on the Internet. Joe, who was just 37 at the time, shared my passion for leaving St. Louis a better place than he had found it.
Out Standing in the Field
Later the day of our June 20 event, we were standing in 90-plus heat in the middle of a field on the near South Side with members of our team from Gateway Welcome Project. The GWP is the the 501(c)3 the Forum helped to form to welcome immigrants and refugees to the region and the workforce. Our meeting was with Scott Walker, the President/CEO of Kingdom House.
It is a 115 year organization, located near Nestle Purina on Tucker, that began as an immigrant settlement house. Today it serves over 2,000 people, evenly divided between African Americans and HIspanics. We were doing a site visit to consider building a soccer training facility for the neighborhood, similar to the one that GWP completed last year for Nahed Chapman New American Academy.
Within two blocks of Kingdom House are five public housing projects. Also nearby are a public elementary school and the Lift for Life Academy. The GWP could see soccer clinics, family gatherings and more in a space that could be transformational for the neighborhood, and could send a powerful message from our industry.
That same day we met with grant writers on funding for the Construction Forum Education Foundation's initiative to build a pipeline of "kick the tires" career opportunities and mentoring for kids, beginning at middle school.
Over the last two years Joe Blanner has been consumed in historical research on various efforts at regional unity in our area, which will ultimately be published in two volumes. Joe developed his enthusiasm for this research when he discovered the writings of his wife's grandfather, one of the pioneers in the efforts at regionalism for the St. Louis area.
He is not writing the books as a history lesson, but rather as a map of what has worked what has not worked over the years in terms of regionalism efforts here. He will also suggest, based on his research, a path forward.
A Legacy of Action
One of my favorite films is the Jimmy Stewart classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s the story of George Bailey, man who wanted to see the world and ended up running the family business after his dad died suddenly.
Part of the reason why I identify so strongly with that movie is is that it's my story. George's dad's business was the Bailey Building and Loan, a business that helped families build their futures. My dad was working on issues like inclusion, and workforce development, neighborhood redevelopment, and economic expansion in the late '60s and early '70s. In July of 1976, seven years after he founded a publication to be a voice for construction, and one month after I had joined him in that venture, he was suddenly gone from us.
Like me, Joe Blanner, a student of history, is inspired by the greatness that has marked our region's past, and by the possibilities for the future. History teaches us what focused action can achieve and can help to light a path forward.
One Man, Focused Action
A couple of years ago the late legendary architect Gene Mackey. a man of action who loved St. Louis passionately, gave me a reading assignment: "Brookings: A Biography", published in 1937. Robert Brookings began his career as a wooden spoon and bucket salesman. He was a millionaire by the time he was 30 in 1880. At that point he decided to spend the rest of his life giving back to the St. Louis region, and later to the nation, through focused action.
While he was still working in the business in which he was a partner with Samuel Cupples, Brookings built the Cupples warehouses downtown – one of the first intermodal logistics centers. In the public phase of his career he envisioned and built Washington University's original hilltop campus, and the beginnings of BJC Kingshighway campus. He served in Washington, DC on Woodrow Wilson's War Industry Board and chaired the price fixing committee. He then founded the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, whose mission is research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society.
In other words, focused action.
Writing on the Wall
Almost five years ago – a year in which my Mom died and I wanted so much to thank both my parents for what they gave me – I noticed for the first time while again watching "It's a Wonderful Life" the framed quote hanging on the wall beneath a picture of the Peter, father of George Bailey:
“All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”
The quote reminded me of the most important thing my parents gave to me – and the most important thing we can give to our families, to our industry, and to our community: our time.
Or to put it another way: "Focused action."