Education plays a vital role in economic development. At a time when competition for economic development is high (due in part to the recent recession and many communities competing heavily for new revenue streams), we cannot afford to have any strikes against us. If the educational system is not up to par, it is a huge hindrance in attracting and retaining talent; and if talented people do not want to locate in your community, businesses won’t either. This is one reason why The Heartland Partnership family of companies has put regional education at the top of the agenda. The CEO Roundtable, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce and Peoria NEXT have taken steps to make education a priority within the organizations, thus enhancing the entire Peoria Metro Region.

A region’s educational system is one of the first things people look at when considering where to locate. Families will look at both public and private schools of all grade levels, regardless of the current age of their children, because they could be living in this location for several years. They will look at schools’ test scores and overall educational record as it compares to nearby areas. Some may check out potential colleges if their children are nearing that age. They will look at how “family-friendly” the community is, and, of course, the financial status of the educational system. If any of these qualities don’t measure up to their expectations, it is quite possible they will not locate here.

The Peoria Metro Region has many great things working for it on the educational front. A student can start preschool and continue all the way to a doctorate degree without leaving the area. There are quality public and private schools of all grades and a wide variety of higher educational opportunities—from trade schools to four-year universities—all right here. I think one of the most exciting components of our regional educational system is the brand-new charter school that will open its doors in August. Quest Charter Academy will offer a new educational choice for the City of Peoria. Many community leaders and Heartland Partnership staff worked long and hard on this initiative, and everyone involved takes great pride in the roles they played to get this endeavor up and running.

Roberta Parks, president of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, has been a part of the Peoria Charter School Initiative from early on and says, “Working on the charter school has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my career at the Chamber. I think we are doing something that will fundamentally change the future of many children in our community and benefit the businesses in our community. Certainly, a charter school is not the solution to the education issues in our community, but it is a piece of the solution.”

Kyle Ham, president and COO of Peoria NEXT, as well as a Charter Academy board member says, “Being involved with the Peoria Charter School Initiative has been extremely rewarding for me both personally and professionally. From a personal standpoint, having the opportunity to help guide young lives through their education, and professionally, seeing our own children be prepared to meet the needs of our growing science and technology sectors of our community, has been amazing.”

We are in the business of growing our region and education is one of the most important components to that growth. iBi