In 2016, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Air Force, decided to invest nearly $2 billion to build the Next NGA West (N2W) campus in the North St. Louis region.
On Nov. 26, 2019, NGA hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the new campus, which opened a new chapter for the agency. The City of St. Louis and the entire region have seized upon the momentum created by the plan for this new facility, and the forward-leaning work environment NGA plans to operate there. With a clear-cut commitment to make St. Louis the geospatial intelligence hub of the nation, there’s a focused effort to achieve the exciting promise that GEOINT-related technologies and services hold for many sectors of the economy.
On Wednesday, May 20, on the GEOConnect Series virtual main stage, a panel of experienced GEOINTers, moderated by Keith J. Masback, principal consultant, Plum Run, LLC and USGIF board member, led an in-depth discussion about what’s happening in St. Louis today and how it’s paving the way for an incredibly exciting GEOINT future for the region.
N2W Site Progress
The 97-acre N2W campus—scheduled to be completed by 2025—will include an office building of approximately 712,000 square feet, an inspection facility, access control points, a visitor’s center, and parking garages.
The new campus is located just north of the Gateway Arch, a monument that commemorates the famous expedition of Lewis and Clark. The location puts NGA in the heart of a community of outstanding academic institutions and cutting-edge industry.
“We’re starting to really see our efforts to build in flexibility and to maximize the opportunities for collaboration in this design,” said Susan Pollmann, Next NGA West program director, NGA. “Our technology design is maturing. We’ve got a lot of testing activities that are in high gear and our preliminary design review is scheduled for around October.”
“We’re delivering more than a building,” said Pollmann. “We are designing an exquisite system that will carry our mission into the decades to come.”
The new facility includes wireless technologies—which, while standard in private industry, have been a challenge for the intelligence community to adopt for a secure, classified work environment—and plans for the facility to be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standards for environmental sustainability.
“The confidence I had four years ago when I was about to sign the record of decision for siting the new campus in North St. Louis has only grown, and it’s grown [even more] in the past two months,” said Robert Cardillo, president, The Cardillo Group.
Building a Geospatial Intelligence Hub
NGA has been a part of the St. Louis community for approximately 70 years. In 1952, the St. Louis Arsenal, where the NGA West Campus currently resides, went from manufacturing and supplying small arms to becoming the U.S. Air Force’s Aeronautical Chart and Information Center.
“I don’t think even the City of St. Louis had any idea of the level of investment that was going on here related to GEOINT,” said Pollmann. “When [former director Robert Cardillo] made his decision to go with the North St. Louis site in 2016, that awakening really started happening. There is amazing stuff going on in the area—whether it be academic partnerships or industry collaboration or the new startups that we’re starting to see in terms of partnerships for NGA—it’s totally exciting.”
One of the many exciting GEOINT innovations occurring is at the nonprofit innovation and entrepreneur support center located in downtown St. Louis, T-REX. The center’s goal is to increase the vitality of the regional economy by recruiting and nurturing startup companies that advance technological development, encourage creative thinking through design, and employ highly-skilled workers who contribute to the economic development of the area.
“We’ve worked hard over the past four years to develop a special emphasis on geospatial innovation and workforce development,” said Patricia Hagen, Ph.D., president and executive director of T-REX.
In addition, the fourth floor of the center will be designated to Geosaurus, an initiative to provide collaborative content and programming for advancing the geospatial industry. The goal behind Geosaurus is to become a talent pipeline for companies like Bayer and NGA.
“We’re looking at ways for how we can introduce the new center and its resources to the national and international community and look forward to working with all the partners in the region and [beyond],” said Hagen.
The panel also included Vasit Sagan, Ph.D., faculty director of the Geospatial Institute at Saint Louis University, who spoke about the critical role academia plays in building a geospatial intelligence hub. According to Sagan, there is no doubt that academia plays a critical role because technology talent and a skilled workforce are the bread and butter of the GEOINT profession.
“Making St. Louis the geospatial intelligence hub of the nation requires training our workforce with new skills like automation, A.I. imagery analysis, machine learning, you name it,” Sagan said. “We are coming up with creative ways to train our workforce and deliver the cutting-edge technology we need to provide to our students in a number of ways.”
Academia has been at the forefront of leading technological innovation and delivering cutting-edge skills through research.
“This is exactly what I was hoping to see when we made the decision four years ago,” said Cardillo. “St. Louis is happening. It is stepping up to the opportunity. And it’s just exciting what we’re all going to do together.”
Featured Image: North St. Louis NGA Campus | Photo Credit: NGA