A Publication of WTVP

40 Leaders Under Forty

As director of workforce solutions at GPEDC, Brent Baker works to connect school districts, colleges and social service organizations with regional employers to address the availability of workforce talent. In large part due to his leadership, local workforce development efforts are better aligned than ever before and positioned to make a lasting impact. He is responsible for coordinating CareerSpark, an interactive career expo for eighth grade students across the region. In 2018, over 4,200 students from 60 schools attended the event—an increase of 700 students over the prior year.

Baker previously served as director of the GP Pathways program, which sought to align Peoria Public Schools’ high school curriculum with Illinois Central College offerings and create hands-on career experiences. He succeeded in creating internship opportunities at more than two dozen employers, while hundreds of students were able to find jobs with the likes of Caterpillar, UnityPoint Health and Bradley University. He also helped Caterpillar scale up its “E4Life” career program beyond its initial offering at Manual High School. The Pathways program has since expanded to other school districts in the region and is now a best practice shared across the nation. Prior to joining GPEDC, Baker was an AmeriCorps volunteer at the Peoria Housing Authority, where he designed the award-winning 3E program to help Taft Home residents attain their CNA certification.

Beyond his accomplishments at work, Baker is constantly seeking to enact positive change in his own neighborhood. As co-owner of West Bluff Investments LLC, he has invested time and money to purchase and restore a historic building on West Main Street. As president of Bike Peoria, he helps lead the charge for a more bike-friendly city and region, overseeing efforts to partner with community organizations and expand access to cycling. He spends many hours volunteering at the Bike Peoria Co-Op, serves on the board of Yaku, which is working to repurpose an historic church as an international arts and cultural center, and is a founding board member of Soulside Healing Arts, the first nonprofit yoga studio in central Illinois. PM