Whether new or existing, businesses grow best in a resource-rich environment.

Most people want a paycheck and stability. They look for jobs with a fair wage, decent health benefits and some vacation time. The majority of people don’t like change; instead, they keep their heads down and work.

Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are a different breed. Peter F. Drucker, the godfather of modern business management, once said, “The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” Entrepreneurs are risk takers who believe they have the ideas and drive to compete in a local, regional, national, and sometimes global marketplace.

But taking that first step in launching a startup or purchasing an existing business can be terrifying. There are no “how to” manuals to guide the entrepreneur from Day One to success. Instead, he or she must search out support and guidance in the area to help cultivate and grow the business. In some regions, this support is difficult to find. But in central Illinois, entrepreneurs can rely on the assistance of Focus Forward Central Illinois (FFCI).

FFCI is leading the charge to expand current business and bring new business, talent and investment to the Greater Peoria region. In other words, entrepreneurship is at the heart of FFCI’s core mission, as the product of entrepreneurship is a stronger regional economy spurred by job creation and regional investments.

Begun in 2012, FFCI has attracted hundreds of individuals to engage in an assessment of regional strengths and weaknesses, create measurable goals, and develop an organizational structure for efficiency and effectiveness. Many of FFCI’s most active members—from Seshadri Guha of CGN & Associates to Libby Mathers of Harvest Café to Sid Ruckriegel of Sidal, Inc.—are entrepreneurs who once stood in the same shoes as those who need support now.

A Regional Approach
FFCI touts a community development strategy based on proven principles that focus on regional development for its five-county area: Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, Mason and Logan. This regional approach is key to success for entrepreneurs in central Illinois because it is the region that will support those new businesses with customers and/or employees. For example, a manufacturing startup in Washington, Illinois, may only serve customers in other states, but its workforce will come from our region, its payroll will stimulate other regional businesses, and the ensuing tax revenue will benefit our local schools and communities.

Entrepreneurs who get involved in FFCI projects can take advantage of the group’s collaborative efforts that connect our economic, community and workforce development partners.

Connecting Economic Development Partners
FFCI is partnering with several economic development entities to maximize resources for all business, existing and new. Among them is the Economic Development Council of Central Illinois (EDCCI), which is focused on economic development priorities within the FFCI regional strategy.

In addition, the counties and municipalities throughout the five-county region have joined the FFCI Technical Working Group to capture federal and other dollars available for economic development projects to support new and existing businesses. Finally, FFCI is developing a finance support system to help business locate the financing options they need to succeed. Through these resources, FFCI is helping to provide all businesses with additional economic development opportunities to locate or expand in the region.

Connecting Community Development Partners
FFCI brings together leaders from all walks of life to help businesses and their employees become part of each community in our region. The CEO Roundtable and Greater Peoria Business Alliance allow entrepreneurs to meet and discuss common issues so they can work together to solve problems. Along the same lines, participation in local chambers of commerce can open opportunities for business leaders and employees to meet and work on projects at the community level.

Because a talented workforce looks for educational and social opportunities, FFCI specifically targets regional educators, park officials, cultural and religious leaders, and those in the hospitality and recreation industries to help evaluate our current resources and spread the word of what the region has to offer employers who are considering locating in central Illinois.

FFCI is leveraging these resources to attract employees who are looking for a place to live, work and play—most importantly, those 25-to-44 year old workers who possess unique educational and training backgrounds.

Connecting Workforce Development Partners
Many employers are trying to solve workforce talent issues. Likewise, new companies may require employees with skill sets that are vastly different from those needed just 10 years ago. In response, FFCI developed a regional Workforce Alliance to address the challenge of developing a sustainable talent pipeline.

The Workforce Alliance is bringing together employers and workforce training providers, including community colleges, to identify needed skills and create training programs to meet the needs of both existing and startup companies. FFCI expects it to permanently change the reality and perceptions about the supply of a qualified regional workforce, sufficient to meet the job growth demands of FFCI’s five-year regional strategy.

In addition, FFCI will launch workforce centers of excellence and industry cluster teams focused on the manufacturing and healthcare industry sectors. The group is also creating career-readiness toolkits—pathways for multiple industries allowing for parents, students, workers and educators to understand the skill priorities for the 21st-century worker. Lauding the fact that central Illinois is both business- and family-friendly, FFCI is taking the lead in competing with other regions that are marketing their job-ready workforces and educational/cultural environments to attract entrepreneurs to invest in their communities.

Don’t Go It Alone
FFCI wants to make it easier for entrepreneurs to run businesses that can compete against competitors across town and across the globe. Whether construction and financing are issues, or if establishing a stream of talented employees is a top concern, businesses grow best in a resource-rich environment.

Instead of individual companies or even cities attempting to foster that environment, FFCI is bringing together the key players to collaboratively address these top-of-mind concerns so the regional economy can continue to blossom. iBi