A Publication of WTVP

On August 30th, a crowd of over 400 gathered at 801 W. Main Street in Peoria to witness the ribbon cutting of the PeoriaNEXT Innovation Center. Sleek and magnificent, the $13.5 million building is situated right in the heart of Renaissance Park, a symbol of the convergence of our region’s R&D resources. With the nation’s largest agricultural research lab, a nationally recognized university, two regional medical centers and a world-renowned college of medicine all located here, a more perfect site could not be imagined.

It’s exhilarating to see how far we have come since the year 2000, when a steering committee was formed to examine the Peoria area’s role in the 21st century knowledge economy. The following year, a strategic plan developed by the Battelle Institute pointed out that, while approximately one billion dollars were invested each year in research and development in the area, the technologies and products of those efforts left the area to be commercialized elsewhere. Two reasons were cited for this—the lack of places for such ventures to incubate and the absence of a system for facilitating business development.

Our answer to these problems lies in this sleek new building on Main Street. Its mission: to halt the exportation of some of our most valuable intellectual capital and retain our homegrown ventures here in Peoria.

The benefits of business and technology incubators are obvious and well-documented. While most small business start-ups fail within two to five years, companies associated with an incubator have dramatically higher success rates. In addition, after a company “graduates” from an incubator, it is far more likely to locate within the community.

And it’s a gift that keeps giving. As businesses grow, succeed and move on, they make room for other young start-ups, taking an entrepreneurial culture with them. Jobs are created, and the local economy becomes more diversified. Links between universities, research institutions and the business community are enhanced, and our neighborhoods are revitalized.

Besides this plethora of real, quantitative benefits to the community, there is an intangible element upon which you cannot place a true dollar value. I am not the first to say that the greatest virtue of the Innovation Center may very well be a symbolic one. Collaboration, entrepreneurship, and, yes, innovation are built into the DNA of this building. Its mere presence signifies an environment supportive of outside-the-box thinking and risk-taking. So much of life is about being in the right place at the right time, and a support system like this will surely increase the frequency of such synergistic moments.

In today’s world, innovative economic development doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes a village, as they say, and that’s what we’ve done here in Peoria. Many resources were pulled together to work on this project, including the Office of Congressman Ray LaHood, the City of Peoria, Caterpillar Inc., Bradley University, Methodist Medical Center, National City Bank, The Heartland Partnership, state legislators of both parties and numerous other state and federal governmental organizations.

It can be a difficult task to bring together so many different groups, but that’s exactly what we’ve done. It was—and is—a truly collaborative effort, one in which we all have a stake and one in which we can all be immensely proud. The fruits of this labor of love will make themselves known for years to come, and that’s something to celebrate on Main Street. IBI