Across the U.S., there are approximately 53 million freelancers, or people who work on a contract basis for multiple entities, rather than being employed by a single company. These kinds of employees make up around 36% of the total workforce, and collectively, they contribute around $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy. A study commissioned by the freelance marketplace Upwork found that if current trends hold steady, by 2027 the majority of Americans will be freelancers, says Eillie Anzilotti for Fast Company.

Cities should be doing more to cater to this growing workforce.

“We ask our network of freelancers what some of the important factors are when they are deciding where to live,” says Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel. “And the number one is a strong network of business professionals, like lawyers and accountants, that can help them run their own business–freelancers are like startups themselves.” And following close behind, Kasriel says, is a local community of other similar professionals. “The more of a critical mass of freelancers you can get in a place, the more effective they all become,” he adds.

St. Louis’ patchwork approach of attracting early-stage startups and independent workers, and converting many of its old, empty manufacturing buildings into affordable coworking spaces, is a strategy that’s allowing the city to play host to a diverse business culture, rather than relying on one monolithic business. And it’s still relatively affordable, which makes it an easier city for freelancers and startups to put down roots.

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