A Publication of WTVP

Once again, iBi is on the mark with its focus on economic development in this October edition. Economic development certainly is the topic of the times, whether at the local, state or federal level.

The national presidential campaign is all about reviving and propelling the economy to create jobs and prosperity that brings a sensible balance between spending and revenues. The State of Illinois continues to struggle with correcting policy priorities that discourage business investment. (One simply has to note the recent downgrade of Illinois’ credit rating for its continued huge budget deficits and unfunded pension liabilities.) Locally and regionally, we are once again looking for strategies to improve our ability to encourage existing businesses to reinvest and attract job-generating, income-producing investments. Clearly, this is a time for coherent, reasonable, affordable and transparent economic development, built upon effective planning and implementation through courageous political leadership and professional managerial skills.

A core responsibility as mayor of the City of Peoria is to protect and enhance public health and safety, and nothing underpins our ability to ensure a livable and secure community more than a vibrant, growing economy. Solid, sustainable economic development provides the revenues not only for quality municipal services, but for improved public education and other local services, such as parks and recreation, public transportation, libraries, etc. And in this region, Peoria is the hub on which all the rest is built. I am reminded frequently by my friends at the Peoria Historical Society that this all started back in 1691!

The above is simply to demonstrate why the City of Peoria places a high priority on economic development as an important function of city government. Peoria’s initial foray into economic development as part of the city administration began in the mid-1960s, when Peoria experienced an impressive rebirth in its community, especially the downtown. That is when business and city leaders planned for a new Caterpillar world headquarters in the center of downtown, and when the original Sears Block was built. Bradley University was completing a capital campaign, planning was underway for a community college, and our three hospitals recognized they needed to evolve into medical centers of excellence and healthcare education.

Now, 45-plus years later, look at what is taking place! By my tally, Peoria is in the midst of over $2 billion in investment by existing businesses, educational and healthcare institutions, city and county governments, private developers, cultural organizations, and new commercial ventures in bioscience. And I recognize fully that this list is not inclusive of the investments that are produced by the ripple effect of the larger investments in our future.

Can we do better? You bet we can. Should we improve our communication and cooperation with jurisdictions and quasi-governmental groups beyond our municipal borders? Of course! Can we develop ways for greater public participation and understanding of the critical nature of strategic economic development? Yes! Are there strengths we are not emphasizing sufficiently as we seek reinvestment and new investment? No doubt about it! Finally, do we pursue needed improvements in economic development planning and implementation in an evolutionary framework, or do we throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater in a more revolutionary approach? My experience clearly indicates you can get much more done in 21st-century local government through an evolutionary and honest collaborative strategy.

That is why I believe the recent recommendations for the newly formed Regional Strategy Policy Steering Committee hold promise. The final report of the committee’s consultant speaks of the reorganization of existing groups, such as The Heartland Partnership and EDC; it suggests combining the roles of several organizations that deal with pieces of the economic development puzzle; it looks to emphasize the good work of The Heartland Partnership; and it calls for broader strategy development based on our many assets (transportation, Illinois River, skilled workforce, excellent centers of healthcare and education, outstanding parks and recreational facilities, cultural attractions and a growing hospitality industry).

The City of Peoria will continue to play a critical role in central Illinois’ evolving economic development strategy. It is not the size of our staffing for this function that matters, but quality and professionalism, and on this score, Peoria does quite well. With over $2 billion of investments underway or recently completed within the city, our responsibility will even intensify and become more robust.

Peoria will definitely remain the hub of commerce, finance, government, education and healthcare, and with existing projects underway or about to be completed, add hospitality, culture, recreation and transportation to the list. But there will also be growth in our neighboring communities as well, and we need to support and encourage their projects. It will make the region that much stronger. Effective economic development is in everyone’s best interest. Plainly said, it is the window to a secure, prosperous future. iBi