Like a new business, successful gardens do not bloom overnight; they need the tender care of a gardener to assist in their growth. The concept of economic gardening focuses on creating jobs by supporting existing local businesses, and embraces the idea that entrepreneurs drive the economy.
Cultivating the growth of local entrepreneurs and community businesses is one of the most effective ways to grow a local economy—and something the Economic Development Council (EDC) for Central Illinois prides itself on. According to CNN Money, in 2009, Peoria was the fifth-best midsized city in which to launch a small business. A go-to resource for both prospective and mature entrepreneurs, the EDC is able to provide them with baseline and custom market research, market profiles, online site and building database, and site selection assistance. The Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce can also lend a hand in enhancing the growth of entrepreneurs by assisting them in advertising and promotional opportunities, keeping them informed on public policy issues, and sharing information on key community issues and much more.
The EDC also acknowledges the importance of infrastructure for upcoming businesses and is prepared to assist in finding healthy soil for entrepreneurs to plant their seeds. It can connect entrepreneurs with federal, state and local resources—from Small Business Administration and low-interest loan programs to federal grants and tax incentives—to provide funds for new facilities, expansions and other workplace improvements. “Peoria has figured out that infrastructure is the critical factor,” says Tom Churchwell, a managing partner of Arch Development Partners in Chicago. “Little businesses can find inexpensive spaces to rent, find employees they need to get started, and very importantly, find the early-stage funding.”
One of the most significant services offered by the EDC is the ability to provide entrepreneurs with connections aimed at encouraging growth in their specific direction. Peoria NEXT, a hybrid research collaborative organization, tech incubator and capital network that links scientists, investors and entrepreneurs, has presented many success stories since it was formed in 2001. The organization has brought to life 26 small businesses to date, including Intellihot, a developer of tankless water heaters. This company, which aims to provide customers with a smart, efficient supply of hot water while dramatically reducing costs and environmental impact, has garnered some national attention through its participation in a 12-hour reality TV show that highlights the top 24 startup companies in the nation outside of Silicon Valley.
The EDC also collaborates with NEXT Steps in its bimonthly venture networking event, which allows entrepreneurs to network informally with investors and others interested in nurturing entrepreneurship and cultivating business-to-business connections and resources to feed their growth. All meetings take place on the third Tuesday of the month from 9 to 11am at the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center.
Education is another key to success in the business world, and the EDC promotes higher education for local businesses by facilitating an entrepreneurial training program that helps local businesses expand, modernize and remain healthy. SCORE (Counselors to America’s Small Business) is another service offered to local entrepreneurs. It provides free, confidential business counseling tailored to meet the needs and personal goals of the individual entrepreneur. The EDC can also showcase local entrepreneurs in the local media through the WHOI Good Company TV show.
The EDC is consistently working to make the region more attractive for businesses and residents. With over $1 billion invested in industrial development, Peoria Metro is becoming a prosperous environment for entrepreneurial growth. According to Jim McConoughey, president and CEO of The Heartland Partnership, “All of these services and networking opportunities offered by the EDC, along with a nurtured environment, will help prepare entrepreneurs to bud and expand their roots around town.” iBi