Healthcare has quickly become the region’s largest industry cluster by employee count. In January of 2021, Greater Peoria’s (GP) two largest employers were OSF HealthCare with 13,500 employees and Caterpillar Inc. with 12,000. When you add UnityPoint Health, the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria, Illinois CancerCare and others, the healthcare industry provides 30,000 area jobs—16 percent of our total workforce and 26 percent above the national average for a region our size. It’s no wonder that we were named a Top 10 Mid-Sized Healthcare Hub by Business Facilities magazine this year.
But healthcare is a service industry, which requires people who utilize the services. In the face of a declining population, how can a region with this robust industry cluster build business, jobs and growth opportunities around it? This is where Peoria Bio-Made comes to play… and you’re invited to be a part of it.
Launching Peoria Bio-Made
The Peoria Bio-Made initiative launched when Dr. Jake Becraft, a biotech entrepreneur based in Boston, began exploring ways that Peoria could readily compete in the global biotech economy. Dr. Becraft was raised in the Peoria area (Germantown Hills) before earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a PhD in biological engineering and synthetic biology at MIT. He is a synthetic biologist and biotech entrepreneur, as well as the cofounder and CEO of Strand Therapeutics, an emerging biopharmaceutical company applying synthetic biology to RNA therapeutics.
Although Jake does not reside in Peoria, his family does, and he has not forgotten his roots and how his time here led to his successful career. With our low cost of real estate, STEM-educated populace, and history of biomanufacturing (through the development of penicillin) and manufacturing excellence (through Caterpillar and other local leaders), he saw that Peoria could serve as a global hot spot for biotech manufacturing.
To launch the Peoria Bio-Made initiative, Jake worked with local leaders, including former Mayor Jim Ardis and the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council (GPEDC), to form a coalition of Peorians tasked with assembling the building blocks of a bioeconomy; building incentives from local, state and federal leaders to attract high-growth businesses to the area; creating education opportunities to train the necessary workforce; and reaching out to global biomanufacturing leaders to make the industry aware of Peoria’s unique value proposition.
The focus for this hub will be manufacturing biologics, viral vectors, nucleic acids and the components required to manufacture such treatments. The biotech industry as a whole has experienced record growth over the last decade, and Covid-19 has accelerated the approval of backlogged treatments exponentially. At the same time, the manufacturing capacity to produce these treatments lags behind the demand.
These dynamics were acknowledged by elected officials through the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA, formerly known as the Endless Frontier Act), authorizing $110 billion for basic and advanced research in fields of scientific and technological innovation, including biotechnology. It is important to note that there are no U.S. hubs for manufacturing these treatments. Boston and San Diego are biotech R&D hubs, but the high costs of those markets has pushed manufacturing out of the cities, giving communities like Peoria a chance to play in that space.
Pitching the Region
To make the case for why GP is the best up-and-coming biomedical manufacturing hub for the country, the Peoria Bio-Made coalition created a “pitch deck” (a brief presentation) that maps the region’s strengths. A set of marketing materials, a contact list and a campaign were built to communicate our assets to companies around the world. These resources can be found on the Greater Peoria Data Hub, and the pitch evolves as materials are developed.
The Peoria Bio-Made coalition is now coordinating resources to build a lab-ready shell building for business recruitment purposes, networking with biotech companies and working with elected officials at all levels to develop incentives that make the region competitive for attraction. The coalition will also help support the local biotech community through networking events and regular meetups. The objectives of these efforts are two-fold: to locate a large-scale biomedical manufacturing organization in the region, and to build out the ecosystem for new and emerging manufacturers to test and scale their products here in GP.
There are few other midsized regions in the country that can provide healthcare assets comparable to what Peoria offers. Between those assets and our manufacturing strengths, the region is naturally positioned to be a biomedical manufacturing hub—at a time when it is needed most.
If you want to support this initiative, join us! Sign up for meeting notifications at peoriabiomade.org; like, comment and share the promotional materials with friends and colleagues; and introduce us to any connections you have in the biomedical industry. We are consistently amazed by the connections Peorians have around the world. Jake calls biomedical manufacturing Peoria’s next innovation, and you get to be a part of shaping it! Our region’s collective economic growth is a community effort, and we look forward to building industry, wealth and jobs around GP’s healthcare cluster with you. PM
Lenora Fisher is director of business attraction at the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council. Learn more at peoriabiomade.org.