The 45th mayor of the City of Peoria has been sworn in. Our congratulations to Mayor Dave Ransburg, who takes the helm at a particularly interesting time for the community. A cooling local and national economy coupled with a tight City budget will make progress on major economic development initiatives, such as riverfront development and the growth cells, a challenge.
There's a lot on the plate and we're confident Mayor Ransburg is up to the challenge.
So with that we offer our recommendations for the new mayor, from the perspective of the region's businesses:
Be Patient-Get your priorities in order. Get to know the players-before launching into your vision for Peoria. It's been a few years since you had a seat around the horseshoe. Wrap up unfinished business, like the stadium issue.
Don't let the three torn up blocks in downtown Peoria stagnate, waiting on a judge's decision. Provide leadership to make it work-remember the Civic Center and RiverPlex had opposition at first, too.
Carefully consider any new initiatives before announcing them publicly. Seek and gain the buy-in and consensus of your fellow Council members. Getting off to a good start is crucial.
Build cohesiveness on the Council- Curiously, while rancor and indecision have been the hallmarks of the City Council, most of the players remain largely the same. The voters are evidently comfortable with their elected leaders.
Despite a couple of tight races, the incumbents kept their seats, and Gary Sandberg remains "at large." Perhaps the talent is there, but the direction has been missing. Oh, and, most importantly, run a tight meeting.
Respect city staff- Too often the Council seems to forget their job is to set policy and provide broad leadership, but it's city staff who make things go. As CEO of a respected international company, you know a thing or two about the importance of hiring the right people and providing the foundation so that they can do their jobs well. Help the city manager. Support him, and let him know when he can do it better.
Get the house in order– Continue to work to ensure that Peoria has the capacity to grow. Strong foundations are critical to the region's future. In some respects, both you and your opponent ran an election based on the importance of maintaining basic city services. We, too, believe the basics are important, but so are the fundamental building blocks to a strong economic base. Transportation (highway access, air service improvements, a navigable river, and public transportation), workforce availability and skills, and a favorable business climate are the foundations on which to attract and retain businesses and expand the local tax base.
Focus on a strategic economic development plan– Help the Economic Development Council realize its potential and help sharpen its strategic focus.
What are our true strengths and weaknesses? Where are the opportunities to attract industry to complement the existing business base? How can we create an environment that draws the best and brightest to stay here? How will Peoria fare in the knowledge economy?
The only way to answer these questions is to analyze our strengths and weaknesses and develop a measurable action plan.
Make City Hall more business friendly– Right or wrong, the City of Peoria is perceived as a difficult place to do business. And perceptions mean everything in development. Promote the positives, streamline the permitting process, work with business leaders and developers to get their input on how to do things better.
Support the Riverfront Business District Commission– You'll have lots of people urging your prompt action on the Riverfront, particularly the Sears Block. Again, take your time. The Riverfront Commission was formed to be the liaison with the Council on riverfront issues. However, the two groups have often been at odds and the commission has gotten mixed signals from the Council about what its role is. Be a facilitator, but let the commission do its job.
Energize local leadership– The leaders of the region's businesses-big and small-deserve a spot at your table, discussing the key issues and helping shape policy that will affect the business environment. There's a lot of local talent to tap into, but too often it's the same people who make the key decisions. Spread the net a bit and gather continuous input from the community.
Encourage agency collaboration– While the region has some excellent business support organizations, there are rumblings among the business leaders that perhaps some changes are in order. As mayor, you have the clout to marshal the talents and resources of groups like the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Council, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Employers Association of Illinois, and the Peoria Civic Center to reduce duplication of services and encourage they join forces to help attract business and people to the region. Consider a structure that brings the key business sectors-medical, services, manufacturing, education-together to share ideas and implement new approaches, region wide. Hold regular meetings with the executive directors and/or the chairs of the agencies. Invite them for a cup of coffee at the mayor's office for a relaxed discussion and update of their activities. Remember, we're all working for the same goal-the betterment of our community.
Heighten Peoria's visibility– It takes money to market the area and the City has not held up its end of the bargain for the last few years. Many communities the size of Peoria have been successful promoting their attributes and dispelling old myths. This is especially important for an area like ours, which has suffered from a poor labor image and a reputation as being status quo. If we're going to grow the tax base, we need to figure out a way to make the region more appealing for businesses and talent. An aggressive marketing initiative for the region is long overdue. You can help make it happen.
Of course, it's easy to sit on the sidelines and make recommendations like these. But I think you'll find that the readers, contributors, and advertisers in this magazine are willing to dig in and help, if asked. We all have a stake in the future of the region. The door is open. IBI