As each New Year begins, it's worth a few moments to count our blessings as well as setting those New Year's resolutions for improvement. One topic for both is "How does Peoria stack up as a place to settle down?" Inc. magazine lists nine categories comprising major issues people consider before deciding whether to relocate a business in that location-or just move there. After reviewing their criteria, we've decided to list our top 10 reasons to start a business in Peoria, or relocate a business here.

10. An excellent workforce. I'd put our workforce on par with any other city's workforce. We work hard at training those preparing to enter the workforce or who are already part of it. The city's department of workforce development, Illinois Central College, the Tech Center, training programs at our area businesses. We even have strong business academies at our high schools. We make sure that everyone who wants to work is trained to work. Developing tomorrow's workforce is a priority for business and community leaders.

9. Sources of funding. There's certainly no shortage here. We have numerous locally owned financial institutions and plenty of regional or national institutions-all of whom are willing and able to advance loans for business development. It's even been rumored that Illinois Governor Ryan will bring Peoria a pilot program this year for venture capital.

8. Economic development incentives. This area has both its pluses and minuses. While the Peoria City Council has not exactly inspired developers with their actions (e.g., the Riverfront and the Promenade), the private sector, including the Economic Development Council certainly produces a positive effort to attract and retain businesses. The medical community, with a new grant for the U of I College of Medicine, is on the go. Other developers often face split council decisions, but still prevail. And of course, those who settle outside the city have few problems.

7. Transportation.The last ten years have not been exactly fruitful for our area, but we're making steady progress. The airport, threatened by cheaper fares found at the Bloomington-Normal airport, has improved air passenger service and eliminated parking fees-and both have attracted more fliers. The air cargo hub is a real plus for some businesses, and while rail transportation has eroded, it has done that in most cities. It will be a few years before we have a direct interstate highway link to Chicago, but we're convinced it will happen. And the interstate that cuts thought the heart of our area is going to be renovated in the next few years.

6. Technology. We're willing to wager that the last couple of years have put us in the forefront of technology nationwide. ATS, AIS, Multi-Ad, ACCS, Rivertech-to mention just a few of the reasons we consider our area to be on the cutting edge of technology.

5. Cost of living. If anyone is looking for a great, affordable place to live, central Illinois is it. We've consistently made the National Association of realtors top rankings of one of the most affordable metropolitan areas in which to buy a home. All of our other major costs are reasonable. Taxes seem like they're high-but they're on a par or less than most other major areas our size.

4. Colleges and Universities. Bradley continues to make the U.S. News List of top universities in the country. Add to them the U of I College of Medicine, Sangamon State University, Eureka College, Illinois Central College, Saint Francis College of Nursing, Midstate College, Methodist School of Nursing, along with other training facilities. There are plenty of top quality higher educational facilities in our area. Our public and private high schools, middle and grade schools also offer choices for quality education.

3. Character of local economy. It's stronger than ever. We're proud Fortune 50 company Caterpillar calls Peoria home. Even though the construction giant is having a less than a record year, profit is expected to exceed a billion dollars. Another great bellwether-Peoria area's home sales, which are headed for a record year despite the actions by the Federal Reserve Board to slow the economy down. We think we have just the right mix of both manufacturing and service industries.

2. Climate/environment. We've added this one because we think it figures right up there with folks' decisions on where to live. We appreciate the change of seasons and the thought that this particular season-cold winter-will only be around for a few months. The Illinois River is one of our greatest assets. Preservation of it, along with development along its banks is a trump card not held by many cities our size.

1. Personal preferences. Despite this area's foibles, we think the Peoria area is an outstanding one in which to live, work, and raise a family. The schools are excellent. Cost of living is quite modest. We're sound economically. And some experts in city living suggest Peoria has all the benefits of living in a larger city with few (if any) of the headaches. We agree-our area offers the perfect blend of cultural, recreational, educational, and business attributes that makes us proud to call Peoria "home".

The Peoria area a blessing? You bet! Room for improvement? Right Again! IBI