What is economic development? Politicians campaign on it. You will hear of it nightly on the news, and if you ask a large group of people, you’ll receive various responses, but most would agree that economic development is the sum of efforts that seek to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community. Those efforts are reached by creating and retaining jobs and supporting or growing incomes and, ultimately, the tax base. Economic development simply stated, I believe, centers around insuring that a community or region can enjoy a certain quality of life. What are those things we aspired for in our youth? To have a nice home, a good-paying job, food and entertainment.
Economic Development Advisory Committee
So what approach do we take to enjoy this “quality of life”? One of the steps Pekin took two years ago was the formation of the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC). We firmly believe that success ultimately comes from a cooperative team effort, and with that, this 11-member committee was formed. In the near-term, the EDAC’s goals include the following:
- Support and strengthen existing businesses, including analysis of barriers to success for the business community
- Evaluate existing business retention efforts
- Define possible economic development issues
- Evaluate new businesses recruitment efforts.
Subcommittees were then created to pursue our objectives. Those committees include Education, Retail Strategy and Marketing of the Riverway Business Park. One of our early successes came through the Education Committee, when it became obvious that there was a need in the region for a well-trained work force, especially in the manufacturing and industrial market. It was a unanimous consensus that Pekin was the perfect location for a trade school, and discussions began with Illinois Central College. Due to their efforts and the support of the City Council, the City of Pekin and ICC were pleased to announce that ICC’s “South” campus would open with classes beginning in January of 2009. The location is also strategic, as it’s located at 225 Hanna Drive in the Riverway Business Park.
Riverway Business Park
Speaking of the Riverway Business Park, this has been one the city’s greatest successes over the past decade, as the eight companies represented, along with ICC, employ nearly 600 people.
The park is situated within the heart of Illinois, in a historically rich agricultural and industrial area. The original 165-acre park expanded by an additional 230 acres in 2006 and represents an affordable site for business establishment or expansion. 2009 will bring the extension of Hanna Drive from Illinois Route 29 to 5th Street, allowing access to the expanded business park.
Being zoned as Planned Unit Development (PUD) allows Riverway Business Park greater development flexibility. Area leaders have commented on the park, saying that many communities will purchase farmland and call it a “business park,” but in Pekin, it’s truly ready-to-go and site-ready. The park, which falls within the Enterprise Zone, offers 100-percent tax abatement for the first five years, along with waiving state and local taxes on materials purchased in Illinois, as well as local building and permit fees.
The park sits adjacent to Illinois Rt. 29, three miles from Pekin Municipal Airport, 10 miles from the Peoria International Airport and less than one mile from barge traffic on the Illinois River. Rail runs through the park, served by Canadian National Railway. Paul DesJardins, manager of Amerhart, a company that relocated to Riverway Business Park in 2007, said, “Over 90 percent of Amerhart’s inventory comes by rail, which is readily available in Pekin, and was one of the company’s biggest reasons for location here.”
Land prices well under $1 per square foot, a ready-to-go site with all utilities in place, and an excellent location with access to multiple modes of transportation—these are just a few reasons for the park’s great success.
According to Pekin City Manager Dennis Kief, like the rest of central Illinois, Pekin has diversified since the recession of the mid-1980s. The most notable examples of Pekin’s diversification have occurred in the southern industrial areas, where two older manufacturing complexes have been converted to large ethanol production facilities and a large federal correctional facility has opened. Adjacent to that facility, the city first opened what is now Riverway Business Park.
The city currently has 10+ new residential subdivisions under construction. Most of the “big retail boxes” are on the expanding east side of town. The city has an active Main Street organization downtown and is renovating its riverfront.
The city is also expanding its transportation network to provide better access to the Interstate Highway System. Two-and-a-half miles of Veteran’s Drive is open to traffic, with another four miles being designed and a Phase 1 Study nearing completion that includes a new interchange at Interstate 474.
These are just a few of the exciting things going on in Pekin. As I mentioned earlier, success comes through a team/cooperative effort. There is probably no better example than what occurred here recently. On a very cool, October 21st morning, ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition paid a visit to Jake Grys and his family in Pekin. At 9:30am, Ty Pennington and cast knocked on their door, and the rest is history. Late the next afternoon, their former home was demolished, and, on a rain-swept Thursday, a new basement was poured. With work going around the clock, the home was framed and the roofing began. One week later, a home that normally takes three to four months to construct was completed.
This serves as a perfect example of how much can be accomplished when a community—or rather, a region—comes together with one purpose. Pekin and all of central Illinois is a great place to enjoy that “quality of life.” And together, central Illinois will prosper. iBi