STL Para Ti, a new digital marketing campaign that Mosaic and the Hispanic Chamber have launched to attract more Latinos to the region

St. Louis significantly lags its peers in attracting American-born Hispanics and Latinos

The article below appeared in the 6/30/22 St. Louis Business Journal.

Alberto Ridaura wanted to live and work in the United States, attracted by the number of headquarters of global companies, higher pay and quality of life.

An executive with Bunge Mexico, Ridaura applied for a transfer to the $62 billion agribusiness and food company's Chesterfield headquarters and got it. He and his wife, Fernanda, moved in 2020 from Mexico City to the St. Louis area.

They plan to start a family and that could be a microcosm of how the St. Louis area overcomes its demographic challenges. Over the long term, attracting and retaining American-born children of Hispanic and Latino parents is the biggest opportunity to dramatically increase the region's population, bringing with it prosperity, said Ness Sandoval, an associate professor of sociology and demographer at Saint Louis University.

The Ridauras are among about 135,000 foreign-born people who reside in the bi-state area. They also are among the roughly 106,000 Latino and Hispanic residents of the region, a number that includes those born in the U.S. and abroad. Both are low numbers, compared with other metro areas.

It’s important for the St. Louis metro area to continue pursuing its strategy to attract foreign-born residents, including international students and refugees from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Sandoval said. But the bigger issue that the region needs to focus on is how to dramatically increase the number of U.S-born Hispanics and Latinos.

“I’m not talking about the Mexican foreign-born. I’m talking about American-born children who are being born in Houston and Dallas and Phoenix. That’s the population growth. These are the Americans you want to move to St. Louis because the reality is the white population is not growing,” he said.

Instead of 106,000, the region should have 300,000 to 500,000 Latinos and Hispanics, based on the demographic trends across the nation and within other large metro areas.  For example, the population of Nashville’s metro area is about 1 million less than the St. Louis region’s, but there are 87,000 more Latinos and Hispanics in the Nashville area than the St. Louis area.

There aren't enough immigrants to move the needle for the St. Louis metro area, Sandoval said. The growth is in children born in the United States to Hispanic and Latino parents.

“We have to ask, ‘Why didn’t they come to the St. Louis region?’” said Sandoval, a demographer who also does data analysis for the St. Louis Mosaic Project, an agency which connects foreign-born newcomers with social and professional resources. “We’ve missed these opportunities historically. The question is, ‘Is it too late?’

“I don’t think it’s too late. It takes intentionality to understand how we re-imagine what the St. Louis metro area would be like with 300,000 to 500,000 Latinos and Hispanics with an immigrant population of 10%,” he added.

Foreign-born residents in the St. Louis metro area are 3.8% of the 2.8 million total population.

The region’s strategy to attract foreign-born residents has helped blunt population loss. A Business Journal analysis found that from 2010 to 2019, the number of U.S. born residents declined by about 20,000, but the number of foreign-born residents increased by nearly 10,000.

But the foreign-born population of 135,000 is low compared with other major metro areas, and the growth is not large enough to boost total population in the St. Louis area, Sandoval said.

St. Louis is the nation’s 21st largest metro area, but it ranks 88th in the number of Hispanic and Latino residents. Charlotte, North Carolina; Orlando, Florida; and San Antonio, Texas, are poised to surpass St. Louis on the list of most populous metro regions. A major reason is growth in their Hispanic and Latino residents. 

There is at least one effort underway to amplify St. Louis as a landing spot for Hispanics and Latinos. The Mosaic Project, an initiative of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership aimed at supporting immigration, in May launched a social media-focused campaign to promote the region to Hispanics and Latinos living in three specific large metro areas where the cost of living is notably higher than in St. Louis.

But Sandoval said the region also needs to examine the perceptions of Latinos and Hispanics living in other parts of the United States about the St. Louis region. Without such a study, there remains only a collection of anecdotes that often portray St. Louis as unwelcoming to immigrants or crime being a problem in the entire region, a perception that may have taken hold because of negative national television coverage, he said.

The Mosaic Project’s campaign began with an unidentified donor who wanted to see if the St. Louis area could attract more Latinos and Hispanics. The amount contributed was less than $50,000, said Suzanne Sierra, senior program manager for the Mosaic Project.

The Mosaic Project initially considered doing a job fair in Puerto Rico. Boeing and SSM Health have taken that approach to recruit workers, but Sierra said the organization determined it would be too expensive.

Instead, it launched a three-month pilot project called STL Para Ti — “for you” in Spanish — in partnership with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis and Explore St. Louis, the regional tourism agency. 

STL Para Ti is using digital ads on Facebook to try to interest Latinos and Hispanics in the Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston metro areas to move to the St. Louis region. The target audience is from 21 to 40 years old.

The three regions have growing Latino and Hispanic populations and significantly higher costs of living than the St. Louis area.

The STL Para Ti website includes a list of job openings and information about sports, arts and culture, theater and performing arts, parks, and entertainment and culture. It also features quotes from Hispanic and Latino residents about what they enjoy about St. Louis.

“The question was, ‘What’s going to attract Latinos to move here?’ I said, ‘Latinos, like anybody else, want a quality of life. They want low cost of living. They want opportunities and they absolutely want to know there is a thriving Latino community here,’” Sierra said.

The Mosaic Project is tracking the number of people who visit the website, how much time they spend on it and whether they sign up for more information about the area.

The goal, said Sierra, is to follow-up with a year-long campaign with a larger budget.


To attract more Latinos and Hispanics to the St. Louis area, Eduardo Platon said the U.S.-born and foreign-born communities need to collaborate.

Platon, a native of Brazil who in January became the president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber, has outlined an ambitious agenda. It includes advocating for direct flights between St. Louis and Sao Paulo, Brazil, and contacting companies in 32 countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean to establish operations in the St. Louis area.

He’s also urging Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina, or Sao Paulo on a trade mission.

“When Latinos and Hispanics think about the U.S., they think about Florida, Texas and California. People are not aware in Latin America that our industries and businesses in St. Louis have so much in common. We have a very strong agricultural sector here, food companies, and financial technology services,” he said.

Platon also said Hispanics and Latinos need more representation on boards of St. Louis-area corporations. He’s also asking Parson to appoint a Hispanic attorney, Francisco Carretero, as an Associate Circuit Court judge in St. Louis. Carretero is among three finalists.

“That would send a strong message to the community that Latinos and Hispanics have access. They can grow and they have the opportunity to be whatever they want to be as long as they work hard and have the merits,” Platon said.

Sandoval, the associate professor of sociology at Saint Louis University, also is pushing for public officials to go on the offensive.

He said Parson, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann should travel together to large Texas cities and urge Hispanics and Latinos to pursue the “American dream” in the St. Louis area.

Sandoval said he didn’t think the message should be cost of living, since that’s a feature of other metro areas with similar stagnant population growth such as Pittsburgh.

“I would lead with quality of life,” said Sandoval. “It’s a region where you can drive to places in 20 minutes. On the weekends, you can do three events in one day. You can’t do that with the traffic in New York or Boston or Chicago or (Washington) D.C.”

'Safer than Mexico City'

The Ridauras moved to the St. Louis area nearly two years ago from Mexico City. Alberto, 31,  is manager of financial planning and analysis-expense management for value chains at Bunge. Fernanda, 28, is marketing and program manager at the Hispanic Chamber. They live in a condo in Chesterfield.

Ridaura has fond childhood memories returning from school and playing soccer with his friends until 10 p.m. in their Mexico City neighborhood. “Unfortunately, the situation in Mexico is not the best right now, with all of the crime and narco trafficking,” he said.

In 2015, Ridaura began to work for Bunge Mexico as a data analyst in the procurement department. He first visited St. Louis later that year for training and in 2018 began to regularly visit Bunge’s headquarters. He said he didn’t begin to know St. Louis until he and his wife moved here in 2020.

“I was surprised by the mix of the cultures like on The Hill with the Italians. You have the French people who came here a long time ago. And of course, you have the Midwest guys, the farmers,” he said.

Managers at Bunge encouraged him to move to the St. Louis area to advance his career. He said the region could attract more Hispanics and Latinos by marketing its strong points, from parks to restaurants.

“When you think of Midwest, you think about Chicago because it’s a big city. St. Louis has a lot to offer,” he said.

Fernanda said it took some time to get accustomed to the culture and the language, but it was worth the effort. After getting permission to work from the federal government, she landed a job at the Hispanic Chamber as marketing and program manager.

“St. Louis is a great city. What I like about living here is it’s very calm. You don’t have traffic. When you’re taking a walk, you don’t hear a lot of noise of the cars. Here, we have the four seasons – snow, the spring, the summer and fall. It’s also safer than Mexico City.

“We want to stay here forever,” she said.

Read more here.