The following post originally appeared on STLToday.com.
On a recent trip to Florida, I had the chance to attend a local United Way event and meet several of their regional leaders. Naturally the conversation among the stakeholders centered on business development, creating well-paying jobs, improving infrastructure and focusing on schools and education in our communities. These activities are typically linked to driving economic growth in communities. While those are critical aspects to regional growth, I think the concept of radical hospitality should be added to the list.
Radical hospitality is the idea that we take an active role in inviting, welcoming and receiving our neighbors and those we want to attract to our region. Through radical hospitality, we should focus in new ways on our relationships with others and exceed expectations for how we engage them.
I have been fixated on the concept of radical hospitality because I believe that it has the potential to reframe our perceptions of one another and make St. Louis a more competitive region. When we fail to embrace newcomers fully into our social structures and groups, they move on. When we fail to project a compelling enough vision and the requisite steps to achieve it as a region, we don’t attract and retain top talent.
How does radical hospitality go from a concept to reality so that our region can ultimately gain a competitive edge? Here’s an example I give: Several years ago, a local higher education institution was attempting to recruit a highly sought after, distinguished professor to join its staff. A leader from this institution assembled a group of local academic, business and community leaders for dinner to welcome and introduce this individual to the people and businesses of our community. Eventually, the professor accepted the position in St. Louis and, while surely not the sole reason, I believe this dinner helped him to see why St. Louis was the right fit.
Radical hospitality, however, is not just focused on inviting newcomers to our region. It is also vital for us to find ways to be welcoming to one another, to the people who already live and work here. I believe that we all must recognize the strength of the St. Louis region is both in our diversity of neighborhoods and in our ability to pull together as one when it matters. I was reminded of this recently when hundreds of volunteers — students, businesses and neighbors — rallied together to sandbag and offer support to those affected by the historic flooding in our region.
Last month, the city of St. Louis inaugurated a new mayor for the first time in 16 years. Currently, the city is searching for a new police chief. I was elated to hear Mayor Lyda Krewson call for more unity in the region during her inaugural speech and believe there are renewed opportunities for regional cooperation and partnerships that will advance this city and region. But we shouldn’t just look to regional leadership and businesses to identify and solidify these opportunities.
Every person should find ways to display radical hospitality and create unity. We should support organizations that are building a more equitable region. We should focus on child well-being and create opportunities for our young people to thrive. We should support the small and local business owners who make each of our neighborhoods unique. We should welcome and integrate our new neighbors and co-workers to our great city. It is through radical hospitality that we can make the St. Louis region a place everyone wants to be.
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