Progress 64 West celebrates 25 years of opportunity – on both sides of the river
By: Jim Erickson
The situation was not unusual 25 years ago: Various groups in West St. Louis County had similar, often identical, ideas on what they wanted to happen in their respective areas of activity. But all too often those ideas were nothing more than walls.
While the same circumstances often exist today, one civic organization that sprang up in 1987 to unite different groups still is going strong.
Now known as Progress 64 West, the organization originally was known as Chesterfield Area Civic Progress (CACP).Its mission is to promote the responsible growth of commerce in West St. Louis and St. Charles counties, with particular emphasis on the I-64 corridor from I-270 westward to I-70.
Tom Shaw, a Chesterfield real estate developer and one of the organization’s founders, explained the thinking behind its creation.
“There were just too many walls that had been built up over the years – walls that often got in the way of community leaders, businesses and citizens working together on their common goals and aspirations,” he said. “The idea was to create some kind of entity that could cross all the boundaries and bring people together on issues that had a broad impact.”
Business interests were the sparks that brought Progress 64 West into being, but today its members include business owners and leaders, elected officials, civil servants, religious and community leaders, and retirees.
“Commerce and a healthy business environment clearly are essential to any community because those are the elements that provide jobs as well as a tax base for high quality public education and all of the other amenities that make an area a good place to live,” said Bill Hardie, the organization’s current Board chairman and president of Keystone Construction Co., of Chesterfield.
When asked what projects came to mind as among the most important in the organization’s 25-year history, Hardie observed: “Transportation-related issues always have been important to the organization because of the vital role they play in any community’s infrastructure. With that in mind, I’d have to say the Hwy. 141 project ranks as the most significant effort for Progress 64 West since I’ve been involved in it.”
With its official opening in July 2012, Hwy. 141 linked the northern and southern parts of St. Louis County with a new outer beltway that runs through the West County area.
Hardie also cited the Page Avenue extension and the new Boone Bridge that will facilitate travel between St. Louis and St. Charles counties as other major projects in which Progress 64 West has played a role.
“Progress 64 isn’t in charge of anything and we’re not elected. We definitely have interests, but we don’t have the means to get a project done by ourselves,” Hardie explained. “What we are pretty good at is bringing people together who can make things happen and then being an advocate for what we think needs to be done.”
The vice president of Progress 64, Pastor Ed Fasnacht of Service International, an outreach effort of the St. Louis Family Church in Chesterfield Valley, voiced similar views.
“Progress 64 can’t take direct credit for a lot of things,” Fasnacht said. “For that matter, I don’t think the organization is all that interested in grabbing any glory for this or that. Our interest is having people working together – people on both sides of the river – to do things that improve the quality of life in the area.”
And while major transportation projects capture considerable attention, Fasnacht noted other efforts for which Progress 64 has been an advocate, including walking and biking trails and support for the arts and education.
The Louis S. Sachs Scholarship Program is just one example of the many opportunities made possible by Progress 64 West. Applications for the 2012 awarded are being accepted now through Oct. 31. Details are online at progress64west.org.
Progress 64 West Board Member Debbie Shaw-Franke, representing Enterprise Bank and Trust, also recalled the group’s efforts some 20 years ago to help the Pond community and the youth baseball park there.
“They needed lights for the field but there were no funds available for that,” Franke said. “The Board (the CACP Board at that time) heard about the situation and decided to help. In a very short period – something like two or three weeks – a dinner and auction were organized and held and there was enough money raised to buy the lights.”
Comments from government officials illustrate the extent of Progress 64 West’s work across county lines.
“I’m a big fan of the organization,” said Garry Earls, chief operating officer for St. Louis County. “It was a very strong advocate for the Hwy. 141 project and other infrastructure programs that affect the vitality of our area.
“An organization like Progress 64 West is a big benefit to those of us in government as we work to understand the needs and priorities of the business community.”
St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann agrees.
“It’s a good organization,” he said. “We find ourselves stuck with what are basically artificial political boundaries, and Progress 64 West serves a very useful purpose in getting people to work together on things that encourage job growth and community development.”
In a comment conveying an obvious double meaning, Ehlmann said, “You certainly can say that the organization has helped bridge the river.”
Progress 64 West recently restructured its membership options to encourage greater participation. Individuals not associated with any governmental body are eligible for general membership. Another category is open to those representing government entities and school districts.
The organization holds 11 monthly membership meetings yearly, featuring guest speakers on current topics related to business, economic development and community improvement. Anyone from the general public may attend the meetings for a small fee.
Pam Hobbs, of Geotechnology, Inc., is the organization’s current president. A 10-member Board serves as Project 64 West’s decision-making group.
Looking ahead, Hardie identified what he views as a priority for the organization.
“We need to get more momentum behind bringing new businesses to the area,” he said. “This area truly has a lot to offer. We just need to figure out how we can best promote what we have here.”