ST. LOUIS — The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is building its future campus in the city considered the “gateway to the West.” The agency’s director, Vice Adm. Robert Sharp, said the expanding presence in St. Louis marks the beginning of a new journey for NGA.

In a keynote speech Oct. 6 at the annual GEOINT Symposium, held here for the first time, Sharp pointed out the symbolism that it was in St. Louis where explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began America’s westward expansion.

The project known as “Next NGA  West” includes construction of a $1.7 billion facility in north St. Louis.  NGA, headquartered in northern Virginia in the Washington, D.C. metro area, broke ground on the new campus in November 2019 and expects to open for business in 2025.

“We couldn’t be happier with how construction efforts have been going. We’re actually building Next NGA West with discovery and connection in mind,” Sharp said. 

“When it’s done, it’ll be unlike any other facility in the intelligence community, you’ll have 20% of its total space dedicated to unclassified work. What better place to collaborate and innovate and to invite academia, private companies, industry partners and local community to engage directly with us?”

During GEOINT, the agency is running tours of its future campus three times a day, Sharp said. “But we’re not waiting until the new site is completed to explore new ways to connect and innovate,” he noted. In July, NGA opened its Moonshot Labs in downtown St. Louis, a workspace where government analysts and startups will collaborate.

“We view that as a pathfinder for the type of environment we want to establish for innovation in the unclassified space with industry and academia,” said Sharp. 

NGA is now running a startup accelerator program with Missouri Technology Corporation, which Sharp predicted will have an impact on how the agency adopts technology from the private sector. “It’s lowering the barrier to entry for small businesses. We’re doing that at the Moonshot Labs.”

Sharp said three graduates of that accelerator received support from St. Louis-based investors, “and they’re expanding directly into federal markets.”

NGA also is reaching out to colleges and universities in the St. Louis area and across the country for research and talent, he said. “We’re serious about recruiting the workforce of our future, improving diversity and inclusion, and making NGA the workplace of choice in every area.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...