Once upon a time there were plans for a building. The idea was to make this building a wired smart facility with high-speed telecommunications access, capability for compressed digital video, and other state-of-the-art information technology amenities.

It would be a building with considerable drawing power, attracting companies and talent to the region. It would provide a new home to existing companies with all the important need for speed. This building would also be a bright new light on the city scape, replacing a blighted, decaying eyesore. It would provide much-needed parking access for the downtown area.

It would also serve a more noble, public purpose, by housing an organization to prepare residents for jobs in the fast-emerging knowledge economy. With computer terminals and ready Internet connectivity for all citizens, regardless of their economic status. This organization would galvanize the resources of the area’s leading providers of technology training programs to supplement existing efforts and improve upon them, with a particular eye on the underserved and less privileged.

A noble effort. Unfortunately, the entire dream has not yet been realized. The building became known as One Technology Plaza, an impressive physical facility, yet hardly the tech magnet originally conceived. Its signature initial tenant, River Tech announced its closure last month.

What the demise of RiverTech, and the publicity it generated, really signals is the absence of a path to chart Peoria’s course in finding our niche in an increasingly important technology-driven economy. It was another wake-up call of our need for clear vision—a long-range economic development plan for our city and surrounding region. In short, what we need is businesses and leadership of organizations to begin collaborating for the community good.

J.D. Edwards & Company, self-described as the leading provider of agile, collaborative solutions for the Internet economy is marketing collaborative technologies that allow communication among organizations, suppliers, and customers across the supply chain, thereby maximizing value in business-to-business environments. The company extends its value proposition to inter-enterprise collaboration by providing customers with freedom from proprietary standards, freedom to adopt new technologies, freedom of interoperability between all applications, and the freedom to put the best idea into action."

Consider the collaboration model currently used by Congressman Ray LaHood to coordinate the requests for funding for a great museum: "Nearly a year ago, Congressman Ray LaHood and others urged local museum groups to share their long-range growth plans and think about working together on many of their common goals. The result was the Museum Collaboration Feasibility Study, the purpose of which was to "inventory" nine central Illinois museums," so stated in the appropriately named newsletter, The Collaborator.

He’s encouraged extensive research, frequent communication among all interested groups, commitment of leadership, businesses and organizations to ensure a successful outcome. Perhaps if interested companies and organizations were more attuned to the vision and importance of collaboration to make Peoria the downstate technology center, we would not be shaking our heads that "It was just a bad dream."

Peoria’s economic development strategy—with a technology emphasis— should be without boundaries. It should fuse together all elements of the economy with the technology infrastructure needed for companies to succeed. It should build the foundations necessary for Peoria to develop true "holding power"—that is to have what it takes to keep what’s already here and bring in what’s needed to support those.

A couple of months ago, we urged Mayor Ransburg and the City administration to make the creation of a strategic economic development plan a priority. As an adjunct to that, we offer some specifics as it relates to the technology side of things such as a community Web portal, increased bandwidth, start-up assistance for tech companies. Businesses that rely on technology want to see that the community has a strong Web presence, that we’re open for business and have an organized Internet presence. Site selectors searching for new homes for business, increasingly make their first pass at a community on-line.

In upcoming issues, we’ll look at the other critical aspects of an economic development strategy, including linked-industry attraction and retention, image building, transportation, education, and quality of life.

There are many communities to emulate. Chicago’s Technology Plan is well articulated, and Kansas City’s SmartCities campaign bills that region as the best place to do business electronically. We have the beginning of a tech community with the building—One Technology Plaza. We can reach for the rest. IBI