A Publication of WTVP

It’s been 14 years since Sears left downtown Peoria, and seven since the building was demolished. This month, the long march to fill that space comes to an end. On October 20th, the grand opening of the Peoria Riverfront Museum and Caterpillar Visitors Center will bring to a close a decade and a half of research, planning, fundraising, construction and anticipation.

It comes at a pivotal moment for central Illinois. The economy continues to be sluggish, and we are finding that many of our problems are structural, not cyclical. What’s worked in the past to return to a path of economic growth is no longer sufficient. And we can’t just sit around expecting a robust recovery to fall into our laps—we have to develop strategies to make it happen.

To that end, a new direction in regional economic development is unfolding, carrying with it a distinct sense of urgency. The recently formed Regional Strategy Policy Steering Committee, comprised of a diverse range of community leaders from throughout central Illinois, are guiding efforts toward the creation of a comprehensive strategy for regional economic development, to be announced publicly next summer.

The process has been likened to our Olympics or Super Bowl—“the most important game our region will every play,” suggests committee member Diana Hall. Indeed, it is a sea change in our approach to regional economic development—and failure is not an option.

One of the key features of the new strategy is its asset-based approach. That is, it will be driven by our region’s unique assets, as opposed to our needs—the way community economic development has typically worked. The asset-based approach has proven successful in many places across the country, and there’s no reason to think it can’t work here.

For more than two decades, iBi has extolled the assets of this region—and they are legion. Yet according to the ViTAL Economy report that helped drive this new direction, these assets have not been fully leveraged to our advantage. From the Illinois River and general quality of life to our strong healthcare and manufacturing sectors and beyond, we are sitting on a goldmine of riches on which to build.

And we’re all in this together. We’ve got to stop competing amongst ourselves and look beyond the immediate region, beyond Illinois, and even beyond our nation’s borders. We are competing on a global scale, and we’re fortunate to have so much to work with.

The new Peoria Riverfront Museum and Caterpillar Visitors Center are simply the latest examples of our very unique assets. Now, it’s up to us to connect the puzzle pieces and take things to the next level. We may be surprised to find how successful we can be when we’re all moving in the same direction. iBi