Over the years, the Peoria area has shown tremendous success in bouncing back from challenging economic times. Whenever the region has taken a hit, it has continued to show economic promise and success in combating these challenges, largely due to strong leadership that traces back to the early 1980s.

Back then, a very difficult recession hit central Illinois. When the region hit the 16-percent unemployment mark, it experienced structural unemployment, the kind that can lead to serious inflation and greatly alter the structure and dynamic of a region’s economy. Needless to say, it was a huge threat to the local economy, causing businesses to shut down and driving people to look for work in other parts of the country.

At this time, Peoria was primarily a manufacturing community. One in three employees were employed at Caterpillar, and while Caterpillar is a strong, thriving business, there is risk in putting all of your eggs in one basket. Had the company relocated, the picture of the Peoria region would be vastly different. Our economy could have hit below rock-bottom, making it almost impossible to recover. Fortunately, Caterpillar has remained strong, allowing the community to pull together and take on the difficult challenge of diversifying the economy.

In 1982, in the midst of a severe recession, regional leaders pulled together and formed the Economic Development Council. Its mission was to foster economic growth within central Illinois by capitalizing on business expertise and enhancing the local economy through targeted financial services, technical assistance and regional marketing. The EDC has since helped strengthen the regional economy by cultivating strong relationships with local, state and federal agencies, and developing synergies that attract and retain business. In partnership with elected officials and private-sector leaders, the EDC has worked toward a more diversified regional economy that will better combat the blow of recession and rebound much more quickly.

Over the years, our region has transitioned from a manufacturing-based economy to a much more diversified one, with expansion in the industries of healthcare and transportation.

Midwest Orthopedic Center, HeartCare Midwest, and Illinois CancerCare are just a few of the healthcare organizations that have shown a great deal of growth in the years following the creation of the EDC. Since it was founded in the late 1970s, Illinois CancerCare has grown to include 17 physicians and 15 different clinic locations. In 2007, it was ranked among the top 10 community research centers in the nation.

Transportation and logistics companies, such as G&D Integrated, KMI Industries and Premier CDL Training Services, have also experienced economic success and growth in the region. Established in 1991, Advanced Medical Transport combines both healthcare and transportation services. The desire to improve the EMS system in the Peoria area drove key community leaders to create what is now the premier provider of emergency and scheduled ambulance service in central Illinois.

Diversity increases the ability to produce growth in “hot” industries like technology and allows for a better deflection of the negative impacts caused by recessions. Since our struggles back in the ‘80s, we have seen tremendous accomplishments in the battle against recessions. We still feel the blow, but we are able to overcome them much more quickly and keep unemployment from reaching dangerous levels. Over the years, the length of our recessions, as well as their severity, has been decreasing.

As we move along in this post-recession period, we are still faced with the challenges of recovery. “The competition for jobs is much greater because communities have been forced to reinvent themselves in the midst of a recession,” states Vickie Clark, president of the EDC. “Other communities look to model after those that are successful in bouncing back…Because of this, it is that much more important to maintain a strong community with leaders that are dedicated to economic success, growth and expansion.”

Just like the bold moves made by our leaders of yesteryear, we must make similar moves to ensure our future success and development. iBi