"We think it’s important that the tri-County speak with one voice … Trying to do it basically on our own hasn’t been easy … We can tackle issues that are good for the tri-County as a whole as well as count on the others’ help for more localized issues when needed … I don’t think any of us are looking at it narrowly as to what is in it for us, but rather what is in it for the (region) as a whole."
These comments are from area leaders from both sides of the river, reacting to the formation of an entity to unite the region’s economic development and legislative strategy.
To create an organization to build a power base for the Peoria area, lay the foundations for growth, compete with the larger metros, and get its fair share of the state and federal funding pie. An entity to coordinate initiatives and raise awareness of the various business service organizations, communities, companies, and governments in the tri-County area, among other things. Basically, an entity that would finally view the Illinois River as a joiner, not a divider.
That entity is the Heartland Partnership—the comments were made in 1992. The Heartland Partnership currently serves as the parent company to The Economic Development Council for Central Illinois (EDC), the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce (Chamber), and several other small business agencies and financial groups.
While originally envisioned as that regional coordinating entity 10 years ago, it has, to be candid, not yet realized its full potential. At the time of this writing, the Heartland Partnership’s board of directors has engaged a consultant to examine the efficiency of the organization. So has the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council—at the same time—as other area organizations have engaged consultants to help define, and redefine and strategize, their future direction.
It’s good to see some action in these important areas, but we must ask, are their intents consistent and do they fit into an overall vision for the region? That’s what the Heartland Partnership was formed to do—be the hub that ties the region’s efforts together, coherently.
We’d offer InterBusiness Issues readers our take on the desired outcomes, as always from the point of view of business.
- Collaboration—The initial goal of the Heartland Partnership is a valid one. Unite the major communities and agencies to share resources and maximize efficiency. Help the leadership in Peoria, East Peoria, Pekin, Morton, Washington and other area communities understand that a strong central city is critical to their well being.
- Consistent Message—The Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, EDC, and the area Chambers should develop a common position statement for communicating with external audiences. Decide who should and can best develop a regional marketing group to package and sell the area.
Deliberate and consistent marketing efforts of our community need to be seen on the regional and national radar screen. Kudos to Keith Arnold and the PACVB for recently announcing plans for a three-year regional campaign to increase tourism. The campaign’s success, however, depends on area leaders’ ability to "buy into" the plan—literally and figuratively.
- Legislative Clout—To compete, we need to show Springfield and Washington, D.C. that we have our act together—as a broad region. The Heartland Partnership can make it happen. Form a PAC, make a difference on issues that can improve business and living conditions here. Have a consistent legislative presence.
- New Blood—Regenerate your leadership. Recruit the best and brightest. Nothing lets complacency set in more than tired leaders. Diversify.
- Educate—Help your volunteer leaders understand the nature of your business. Train your board to know what constitutes effective business and economic development.
- Focus—Set real, measurable goals and objectives. Achieve them. Bring several new major employers to the area.
The challenges to the future of the Heartland Partnership and its affiliates are immense. It’s healthy for organizations to reinvent themselves to adapt to changing market conditions and the pieces are in place to make this process smooth at the Heartland Partnership. Some entities might gain some power; some may have to relinquish some. A coherent, integrated, effective and competitive Peoria promotion strategic plan creates economic value, raises social concern, enhances political influence, and builds sense of a community of interest that serves all employers and citizens alike. IBI