I arrived on the Peoria scene on August 9, 1966—one of the hundreds of babies born at St. Francis Hospital that year—and I’ve spent the vast majority of my life experiencing all the things that people in Peoria reminisce about. As an adolescent, I endured the “Last one to leave, shut the lights off” bumper stickers, as well as the labor strikes of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I witnessed 20-percent interest rates and lines at the gas pumps. I witnessed the construction of the Peoria Civic Center and development of Southtown, Northwoods Mall and the Riverfront; the expansion of the hospital systems downtown; and more recently, the resurgence of the Grand Prairie area.

Reflecting on my 27-years-and-counting banking career, I realize the importance of economic development to my own livelihood. My career has given me the opportunity to work with small and medium-sized businesses, providing them capital to grow and become more efficient.

As the local economy ebbed and flowed over the last 30 years, it has become clear that my success and the overall success of the community are joined at the hip with economic development. Economic development is a somewhat complicated term, with many moving parts, including public entities, private investors and banks. At its core are the real estate developers and entrepreneurs who form the backbone of development and have the creativity and vision to bring ideas to life. Banks—from small community banks to larger regional ones—provide the necessary guidance and capital resources to get these projects off the architectural drafting tables and into the ground.

Another piece to the puzzle of economic development is the public entity. This group tends to be the most bureaucratic of the three, but also has the most complicated job. The City of Peoria, Peoria County, Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Development Corporation and many other entities all serve a valuable purpose. In many cases, they are referees, making sure laws are obeyed and codes enforced. In other instances, they provide valuable insight from the 60,000-foot level: Does a specific project fit in a specific location? Does it provide value to the entire community? Does it make sense for the long-term plan of the City?

In my experience—as with most things in life—the better the communication, the better the outcome. Many projects never reach the light of day, some wither on the vine after years of discussion, and others emerge and ultimately fail. We all know examples of each. But their success or failure is not dependent solely on the project itself; that involves many other factors, such as timing, interest rates, and how effectively and efficiently public entities, private investors and banks communicate with one another.

The benefits of economic development are huge: more jobs, greater choices and an overall better quality of life. As individual projects take shape, construction jobs emerge and are converted to more permanent jobs in manufacturing, service or retail.

I remain optimistic about the future of economic development here in the River City. We currently have many committed individuals working within the public entities, as well as creative and hungry entrepreneurs and many sharp, competitive bankers. The key is to have everyone working together toward a common goal, communicating effectively. iBi

Tom Schlink, is Senior Vice President, Market Manager and Commercial Lender for Hickory Point Bank in Peoria Heights.