It’s been a little over a week since St. Louis Design Week (STLDW) wrapped and there has been plenty of time to let things marinate. After a hectic week of 60+ events filled with panel discussions, workshops, guest speakers, happy hours and presentations all geared towards highlighting design in St. Louis, I realized that I can sum up my all of my thoughts and and takeaways into one phrase: midwestern sensibility.

What does this even mean? When I first heard it during the Business of Creativity panel discussion, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. What I did know was that I found myself repeating it over and over again during the rest of STLDW. When asked to elaborate, one of the panelists shared their definition: it meant midwesterners have less tolerance for ego and a stronger work ethic.

This may seem a little controversial to our fellow creatives on the coasts considering some of them have probably never been to the midwest and only consider Missouri to be a “fly-over” state. When asked about St. Louis specifically, I’m sure we can all guess what comes to mind:

  • Bud Light
  • The best baseball team ever known to man
  • That flat pizza you either love or hate
  • Isn’t that guy who started Twitter from St. Louis?
  • You guys just got an IKEA!

All of these things may be part of the St. Louis DNA, but after experiencing STLDW 2015, I have realized there are other things that should be highlighted. Here is the breakdown of how midwestern sensibility is St. Louis’ competitive advantage:

  1. Less Tolerance for Ego: I am one of the many people born and raised in St. Louis and after 27 years here, I am still eager to hear why people come here to live and work. Whenever I ask, “What brings you to St. Louis?” I tend to hear similar answers such as “The people here are so nice/genuine/down to earth/etc.” Is this lack of ego due to higher amounts of empathy overall? Who knows. What I do know is that when working with others, especially with creatives who call their own shots, ego can play a part. It is important to know and communicate your personal value but it’s another thing to let your ego get in the way of making smart business decisions.
  2. Strong Work Ethic: There is something to be said about having the discipline to put your head down and work. That does not seem to be a universal trait these days, especially with the distractions of push notifications and alerts. Maybe it’s because there aren’t as many physical distractions, but midwesterners seem to be naturals at staying on that “daily grind.” I am a HUGE fan of letting your actions speak louder than words. Another common phrase I heard during STLDW was if you do good work and put it out there, people will notice. I can’t agree more. Once you allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to share your work, amazing things can happen. This has become even easier with platforms like Behance and Instagram where creatives can easily get their work in front of the right eyes.
  3. Big Fish in a Small Pond: It’s no secret that St. Louis isn’t the most popular city in terms of talent retention and opportunity. When we all graduated from our design program, a majority of friends decided to leave Missouri and chase their dreams on the coasts (Los Angeles or NYC for the most part). This is understandable because those cities are both creative meccas known across the world. However, after this year’s STLDW, I realized that there are also amazing opportunities here. They are just not being broadcasted as successfully. Instead of trying to dive into a new, oversaturated environment somewhere else, why not first establish yourself here and then find opportunities that allow you to travel?
  4. Low Cost of Living/Operating: I think we are all aware that St. Louis is a great place to raise a family and find a “secure” job, but what if that isn’t your cup of tea? In case you didn’t know, it is also a great place to start a business. One of the main advantages is lower cost of real estate (relative to the coasts). Now there are definitely pain points for St. Louis in terms of starting a company such as retaining talent and significant funding opportunities, but in terms of bootstrapping, there may not be a better option out there. If you have an idea and a plan, there are plenty of places you can go in St. Louis to execute said plan — like coworking centers with self-sustaining communities.

These are all points that I’ve considered many times in the past. But after hearing the same points from creative professionals who are doing amazing things in this city, they’ve become a little more real. A little more tangible. That’s not to say there isn’t a great, big world out there to explore. There just might be a smarter way to see it. After all, I have always been a big fan of working smarter AND harder.

I’d love to hear your POV when it comes to working in the midwest vs. the coasts! Feel free leave a comment below and recommend if this resonated with you. To continue the conversation, follow me on Twitter at @BilliamFrazier.

I’m a designer and writer who enjoys making people smile.

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