MPPA graduate Cordaryl Patrick working to spur economic development in north St. Louis County
Cordaryl Patrick had barely made it inside the entrance to the Starbucks in Ferguson, Missouri, when one of the patrons sitting near the front reached up to get his attention and shake his hand.
He spotted another waving excitedly at him from behind some decorative glass as he started to sit down at a table a short time later, and he took care to go over and greet her.
And Patrick – known to many simply as “Pat” – couldn’t leave the store without a quick goodbye to the manager that turned into a conversation that carried on several minutes.
Similar scenes just as easily could have played out in other businesses along West Florissant Avenue. Patrick, who completed a master’s degree in public policy administration at the University of Missouri–St. Louis in 2011, is well known up and down the thoroughfare in north St. Louis County.
Since November 2015, the 30-year-old has worked as the economic recovery coordinator for the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, so he travels it often, visiting with business owners in Ferguson, Dellwood and Jennings –municipalities that were most impacted by civil unrest that occurred in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown Jr. in 2014.
“The partnership wrote a grant through the Department of Commerce, the Economic Development Administration, to bring on an economic recovery coordinator to sort of work full time through the recovery process from the civil unrest,” Patrick said.
It would have been difficult to find a better fit for the job than Patrick.
He already had been engaged in trying to spur recovery efforts in his previous role as the Dellwood city administrator, a job he’d held since 2013 after two years as the city’s public services director.
Patrick, who first came to Dellwood as an intern during his final year in the MPPA program, was attracted to the broader platform the job with the partnership offered him.
“What I’m charged to do is to work with businesses in Dellwood, Ferguson and Jennings, to help them and make sure they have the resources they need to sustain themselves from the civil unrest but also to spur new development in this area,” he said. “I use the West Florissant Avenue commercial corridor as sort of my project area.”
There’s little question it is still struggling, but he is a big believer in the potential for development to take hold and flourish there. He points out that an estimated 30,000 cars pass along the road each day, creating enough volume for businesses to attract customers.
Part of Patrick’s job is to sell would-be developers on the opportunity he believes exists while working with consultants to develop retail and commercial development programs and facilitate physical design improvements.
The area is part of the St. Louis Promise Zone, a federal designation bestowed by the Obama administration in 2015. The federal program was launched in 2013 with an eye toward improving high-poverty urban, rural and tribal communities.
In St. Louis, the aims are to increase economic activity; reduce serious and violent crime; improve educational outcomes; create sustainable, mixed-income communities; improve health and wellness; and increase workforce readiness.
Among other benefits, areas designated as Promise Zones get preferential treatment for certain competitive federal grant programs and technical assistance from participating federal agencies.
Patrick saw the area when it was most vulnerable, as protests turned to looting in the wake of Brown’s death.
He remembers it all unfolding in real time on Aug. 9, 2014, while at dinner with his wife, Denisha, to celebrate his birthday. She first noticed images on social media of the crowd that had gathered near the site of the killing down the road in Ferguson.
It was still there and growing larger when Patrick and his wife finished their meal, and he recalled calling Mayor Reggie Jones that night and telling him, “Hey, I think we’re going to have a problem.”
No one could have predicted the turmoil that was to come in the weeks and months ahead. But Jones said Patrick played an important role in helping the community, including local businesses, begin the recovery process.
“I was out in front, but he was definitely in the background, giving me advice, being available, making sure that any new policies, anything that we thought needed to happen, did happen,” Jones said. “He was very supportive of anything that came about that had to do with making sure we moved forward in a positive manner.”
Patrick, a native of Tchula, Mississippi, with a bachelor’s degree from Rust College, credits UMSL for helping prepare him for both his former and current jobs. He enrolled in the program in 2009 after following Denisha – then his fiancee – to the St. Louis area.
“The degree, the skills, the knowledge that I got from UMSL’s MPPA program was foundational for me,” he said. “I knew I wanted to be on the administrative side of public policy and not be a politician, but I didn’t have the advantage of being in the position like I am now and going through the program at the same time where I could get some experience and kind of understand the field. But UMSL walked me through that process from beginning to end.”
“He’s been very pivotal in helping us find resources, helping us with direction as far as trying to recover and get businesses to come back into the community as well as a lot of feel-good projects that have helped heal the morale of the residents in our city,” Jones said.
Among the business successes seen in the recovery area over the past two years are the Centene Corporation’s new claim processing facility that opened in the city of Ferguson, the development of a new North County Transit Center on Pershall Road and the opening of that Starbucks and AT&T store next door.
“Economic development puts folks to work and helps change the trajectory of a community,” Patrick said. “If people have a job to go to, then the community changes for the better. That’s what wakes me up every morning, seriously. That is what gets me up and gets me to work every single morning – to know that I’m going to do a job that’s going to help change someone’s life.”
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