Published in March, the Greater Peoria Economic Scorecard highlighted innovation as one of five broad categories measured to benchmark the performance of the Peoria area against similar regions throughout the Midwest. It was one of the categories in which we did quite well, and the numbers may surprise some people.
Of the 12 cities in the study, Peoria ranked third for patents, just behind Madison and Grand Rapids, Michigan, while the region also scored well on the percentage of science workers in the workforce, ranking fourth. Most research and development takes place “under the covers,” and because R&D expenses are absorbed into the final cost of a product, they’re often forgotten or underemphasized by the public at large. For these reasons, many people simply aren’t aware of the potentially revolutionary work happening right here in our own backyard.
In this issue, we look deep into the details of some of these projects, from the quest for new antibiotics and applications for stem cells to the immersive visualization techniques used by Caterpillar to test products before they’re even built—not to mention its work on robotics and autonomous (self-driving) vehicles!
There have been some major developments on the R&D front over the last few years. Perhaps most notably, the brand-new Cancer Research Center at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria opened its doors in December. The $13-million facility will help further the work of Dr. Jasti Rao and his team of specialized researchers in their quest to prevent and cure cancer.
At Bradley University, the Center for Collaborative Brain Research is barely two years old, but has already facilitated a number of collaborative efforts with its partners at Illinois Neurological Institute, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and the College of Medicine. Meanwhile, the Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center, currently under construction on the OSF Saint Francis campus, is slated to open next spring.
Beyond the basics, the next step is to bring the benefits of those advances to the people. That means making them commercially available, which has been a challenge—and can take decades! Peoria NEXT was founded ten years ago for this very purpose. Today, it moves forward with a new CEO at the helm, who offers decades of academic and research experience in that arena. Other groups, such as the angel investor organization, Central Illinois Angels, are “putting their money where their mouth is,” investing in new startups with the hope of discovering the next big thing. Everything works hand in hand.
Your own next-door neighbor may be a scientist at the Ag Lab working on renewable energy technologies, a researcher at the College of Medicine searching for a cure for cancer, or a Caterpillar engineer with a portfolio of patents to help the company lower emissions to nearly zero. The spirit of discovery is alive and well, and it’s cause to celebrate! iBi