Caterpillar Chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman’s breathtaking announcement in February that the company’s headquarters will stay in Peoria is a historic milestone without equal. Culminating more than two years of intensive study, Caterpillar revealed plans that will indeed transform Peoria’s downtown. Much has already been written of the company’s long-term plan to construct an architecturally impressive campus focused on employee comfort and productivity, pedestrian and visitor access and safety, and environmental appeal and sustainability. My purpose here is to share my perspective on what Caterpillar’s loyalty and commitment to Peoria means in terms of our responsibility as a community.

This great, world-respected company could build a new headquarters campus in any number of cities. By staying in Peoria, Caterpillar is relying on the greater community to do those things necessary to provide the essential building blocks of a thriving, dynamic community: high-quality public schools; a business climate attractive to reinvestment by existing companies and new investment from others; transparent, affordable and effective local government; and civic generosity and care, as provided by a healthy and engaged nonprofit sector.

It’s no secret that one of my priorities as mayor is to do all I can to support the improvement and competitiveness of our local schools. While I may not have an “official” vote on school matters, the quality of our public education directly impacts all facets of community life—especially those of us in local government who provide fundamental public services that undergird our educational infrastructure. How are we as a community doing in terms of providing the very best local public education possible?

Networking with mayors of urban communities similar to Peoria, connecting with respected national and state education professionals, and consistently listening to parents and teachers have led me to conclude we can do better. We must do better to demonstrate to Caterpillar, for example, that we are up to the challenge and responsibility their commitment brings. There are many criteria to assess our success and failure. I offer the following as examples: the level of community participation and support; the professionalism, engagement and effectiveness of administrators and teachers; broad, challenging areas of study; an overriding attitude that all students have high potential; and a continual review and performance assessment process.

Well-regarded resources at the state and national levels can help Peoria accomplish an independent assessment of our public education performance in these areas, among others. Such an assessment should be viewed as an opportunity to improve in a collegial way with educators, administrators, parents, students and the community at large. We can seize this unique moment in Peoria’s history to make our educational foundation the best it can be. A critical first step is a hard-nosed, objective assessment. We can do it, if we have the will.

Peoria’s business climate—for investment and reinvestment—and the quality of our municipal governance and administration go hand in hand. At both my February 4th State of the City Address and in my remarks at the Caterpillar headquarters announcement, I stressed the need for those of us in city government to do all we can to encourage investment and sustained business success. Certainly the Caterpillar announcement should be—and I feel will be—a huge stimulus for business expansion and investment in Peoria and the entire region. But it doesn’t just happen. The decision to invest resources in new or expanded ventures requires confidence in the quality, transparency, professionalism and affordability of city government. And that begins with the City Council and our administration.

By the time you read this, you may be about to cast your vote—or have already voted—in Peoria’s April 7th at-large council member election. When asked by residents what they should look for in an at-large candidate, I suggest they ask the following questions: Is the candidate genuinely knowledgeable of the issues facing Peoria? (Do they know what they’re talking about?) Does the candidate have a record of accomplishment in public-sector business? Is his or her thinking on the issues open and without a personal agenda? Does the candidate demonstrate integrity, clarity in communication, cooperation with others, openness to new ideas and innovation, and a fundamentally positive attitude toward challenges and opportunities?

I know the responsibility shared by those of us in local public governance has increased dramatically by Caterpillar’s loyalty and commitment, and I am confident we will be up to the exciting work that is just beginning to unfold.

Finally, I mentioned civic generosity through our strong nonprofit sector as one of the essential building blocks of a great community. Peoria is sincerely blessed with a generous and giving spirit in both individual and corporate support for a safe, healthy, diverse and high-quality community. There will always be a need to help those less fortunate than ourselves with food, shelter, healthcare, counseling, employment assistance, transportation and personal safety. We will continue to be a pacesetting community in personal and corporate charity and compassion.

I conclude by thanking Doug Oberhelman for his and Caterpillar’s unflinching demonstration of loyalty and commitment to Peoria. We will honor that in every way possible by meeting and surpassing our responsibilities to provide stable, effective, engaging, transparent and professional city government. iBi