The Greater Peoria area consists of hidden gems on a large and small scale. One of those gems is the blossoming community of remote workers. While many have found themselves working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, this group was growing even when the world was at a semblance of normalcy. Centrally located in the heart of the Midwest, Greater Peoria is uniquely situated to be an ideal home for remote workers.
As a public affairs intern at the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, part of my job has been to speak with this community and garner their insights on being a remote worker in Greater Peoria. Some have returned to the area to be with family, some moved here for the opportunities of a spouse, while still others have come for the low-priced real estate. What most have in common is that they’ve made this region their home.
A Hearty Welcome
One of the more difficult aspects of remote work can be the isolation of working alone, as many of us during this time of COVID can likely relate. Among its many features and benefits, Peoria offers a unique opportunity for remote workers to socialize.
The Nest Coworking is a cozy space where freelancers and remote workers alike can purchase a membership and find the much-needed socialization that typically occurs in an office space. Wesley Carter, owner of Quantum IT, Inc., has a membership and finds the outside perspective of the other members quite helpful. Michelle McCartney, who moved to the area at the beginning of quarantine, also utilizes The Nest and finds the socialization to be very welcoming.
The overwhelming consensus among those I interviewed is that Peoria and the surrounding region offer the amenities of a larger city with the cost of living and quality of life more typical of a small town. This dynamic is highlighted by Peoria’s real estate market, which is ripe for the picking with affordable, high-quality homes across the region.
Nathaniel Herz, a web developer for Consumer Reports, first came to Peoria for a backyard wedding in the early 2000s. As a resident of New York City, the affordable housing market and quality of homes was not something he would forget. Eventually he and his family moved to Peoria in pursuit of a better quality of life. Perhaps surprisingly, he says the adjustment wasn’t terribly difficult, while offering much less friction in the important aspects of life.
Time for Activity
Brooke Spellman, principal associate for Abt Associates, would agree. A former Chicago resident, she found herself in Peoria when her husband landed a job here. The couple joked that Peoria was a temporary location—but that was almost 20 years ago. According to Spellman, living here allows for freedom of choice, while the relationships and community they’ve built have made Peoria home.
Spellman, who travels frequently for her job, says the commute time in the Peoria area is also worth mentioning. She can travel across the country from the Peoria International Airport, while a major interstate runs right through the city, offering access to larger metropolitan areas like Chicago, Indianapolis or St. Louis.
Ashley Spain, vice president of strategy and marketing at Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL), says she can leave her house and be on an airplane within the hour, an impossible feat for her peers in larger cities. This ultimately means that living in Peoria gives remote workers more time compared to larger metro areas—allowing them time to spend on the things that are most important, and to build a life that suits their specific needs.
All of this extra time can be spent on the many amenities the region has to offer, including a wide range of entertainment options. Peoria’s blossoming Warehouse District offers downtown apartments and a variety of local businesses, each unique from the rest. As she heads to the Nest, McCartney says she has noticed the Warehouse District buzzing with new developments, while Carter mentions the new rock climbing gym, First Ascent, with excitement. In addition, the emphasis on craft and local food and drink continues to grow, Spellman adds, pointing to the brand-new Ardor Breads & Provisions on Water Street and the long-awaited opening of Black Band Distillery on Adams Street.
Were it not for COVID-19, one could simply walk out the door and fall into some activity, says Dan Armich, associate consultant program manager for Collaborative Solutions. He points to CIAO First Fridays, the monthly event when local artists open their studios to the public and local shops offer live music and entertainment. The Peoria Park District, Illinois’ largest park district, is cited for its many offerings, while Herz describes becoming an avid mountain biker since his move to Peoria. Wildlife Prairie Park offers prime hiking and biking trails, beyond the exciting interactions with native animals, while Carter has recently discovered Jubilee State Park, which he describes as equally vast and beautiful.
Opportunities Beyond Covid
For remote workers, living in the Peoria area ultimately comes down to quality of life. In a larger city, it’s easy to fall into a bubble of like-minded people, but Peoria offers something for every walk of life, where people from different backgrounds and beliefs can come together. While there is much room for improvement in terms of economic and racial disparities, there is also reason to hope. Armich has found that Peoria is small enough that public servants are able to build relationships with its citizens and hear their voices. In my research and interviews with remote workers, it is clear that the quintessential American city and region may emulate the nation—yet there is no place quite like it.
While the continuing pandemic has been challenging for everyone, it brings to light new possibilities for Greater Peoria. As the country evolves in the post-COVID era, it is apparent that remote working is here to stay. With its low cost of living, unique amenities and small-town/big-city feel, the region has a lot to offer those remote workers. Migration to larger cities is typically based on job availability, but if those jobs can be done from anywhere, why not from Peoria? PM
Amanda Riggenbach is a public affairs intern at the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council.