Peoria is considered one of the best demographic and cultural examples of an “average” American city, but are we a quality community? What does that even mean? According to dictionary.com, the word “quality” can be used as a noun meaning “an essential or distinctive characteristic, property or attribute.” It can also be used as an adjective meaning “of or having superior quality.” So, what are those distinctive traits or essential characteristics that make our community a place of superior quality? I believe there are many.
Let’s start by looking at our Workforce and Talent pool. We have a very talented and diverse workforce in central Illinois. We have blue-collar and white-collar jobs, local and international companies, and large corporations, as well as many mom-and-pop businesses.
In the past six years, we have seen job growth in industries like agriculture, logistics, technology and healthcare. Reports suggest that healthcare is the industry to keep an eye on as one of the fastest growing and most impactful. This bodes well for central Illinois as healthcare is projected to grow from 16 to 20 percent of the GDP.
In 2008, we had an average of 194,000 employed workers in the Tri-County Area. The breakdown of employment in different industry sectors looks like this:
- 18% Transportation
- 17% Manufacturing
- 17% Healthcare and Education
- 15% Other
- 12% Professional and Business Services
- 12% Government
- 9% Leisure and Hospitality
With that much variety, it’s no wonder we have such a talented and diverse workforce.
Housing improves the quality of life for a family, and high housing rates provide social capital for a community. If you don’t have quality housing, it doesn’t matter how many other quality factors you possess because people won’t want to live there.
A few things to consider when talking about quality housing include: what housing styles are available, are there enough houses available, and are they affordable? Pat McCarthy, president of the Peoria Area Association of Realtors, says that when it comes to the real estate market, “Peoria has been very, very lucky.” While sales for the region have been down (like most areas nationwide), we were still one of the top areas in the state and the nation. This market is filled with a variety of housing styles and is considered affordable, with the average sale price for a home being $139,000. There is an average of 2,200 houses on the market, with incentives out there
Education is another key quality factor for a community. In this region, a person can go from kindergarten to medical school without changing their address. We have public schools, private schools and accelerated learning opportunities for K-12. When it comes to higher education, you can get an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or even a doctorate degree right at home. There are over 300 career path opportunities, and the region’s educational system is flexible, offering online learning, vocational schools, traditional colleges and more. For many years, the region focused on career-based training, but that has changed to a deeper focus on continuing education at any age.
You have to have Entertainment to offer residents—when choosing where to live, it is a major factor. People want to be able to find fun and entertaining things to do when they’re not at work. Central Illinois has lots of family-friendly options that many people may not realize. If you like sports, we have professional football, baseball and hockey, not to mention the great college teams to watch. If you’re into the arts, there are numerous art galleries, Lakeview Museum, the ballet, the symphony and local theatrical options like Peoria Players, to name a few. If you’re into big concerts or touring theatrical performances, you can always find a great show at the Civic Center. The zoo is another great place for families.
Recreation is also important. The regional park districts have much to offer, from sporting leagues to picnic spots. The Illinois River is widely used for recreational activities like boating and fishing. There are many hiking, walking and biking trails throughout the region, and if you’re a golfer, you can’t go wrong with the public and private golf courses throughout the area. Wildlife Prairie State Park and Jubilee State Park are great places for a quiet getaway or a big family outing.
People are not stationary, so Transportation is very important when determining if a community is high-quality. Central Illinois is in the heart of the Midwest, but you can get to either coast, the mountains or the beach quite easily. We have a sophisticated mix of people in this region who travel often—domestic and international, for business and for pleasure. There is an international airport in Peoria with multiple large metropolitan airports within a three-hour drive. A major interstate system goes right through town, and a 40-minute drive will get you to the Amtrak station. You can also get from Peoria to the Gulf of Mexico by boat, starting at the Illinois River. Traffic in the metro area is limited, and most commutes to work are less than 30 minutes.
People want to know that they can get what they need when they need it, without having to drive hours—so you have to consider your Retail options. We have two shopping malls and dozens of smaller shopping plazas that offer big-name retailers and smaller boutiques. There is a variety to choose from to suit anyone’s needs, from those looking for high-end to the thrifty among us. If you’re looking to go out to eat, restaurants are plentiful, from national chain dining options to locally owned favorites.
Peoria is an exclusive regional choice for top national retailers serving a trade area of 31 counties and 1.8 million residents. Its strength is due to its mix of retail: a collection of some of the hottest names, along with traditional and many local specialty retailers. Peoria is a regional draw market that is perfectly positioned between Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Iowa City. It has many exceptional features that differentiate it from other cities within 125 miles, including tourism and entertainment, that make shopping and dining attractive for those living in and outside the community.
Those are just a few of the distinctive characteristics I feel make this a quality region. We have a lot to offer…it’s up to us to tell everyone about it! iBi