My name is David Aduama Jackson, an immigrant from Ghana, West Africa, who has been living in the United States for the past two and a half years. Three months ago, I moved to Peoria as the new communications manager for the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council (GPEDC). This is my story so far.
Job Search in a Pandemic
I had just received my work permit and residency when the pandemic hit. I was barely three months into my new job when I was laid off. I was restless—I don’t do very well when I am idle. In a pandemic, the extremely low prospect of finding a job made the restlessness even worse. Moreover, I wanted to continue my career in development, and I quickly found out that Las Vegas, where I lived, was probably not the ideal place for the kind of job I wanted.
I took on a couple of gigs but they ultimately ended up being more frustrating than fulfilling. I ditched efforts to actively find a job in Las Vegas and focused instead on Illinois, New York and the Washington, DC area. Why? My research hinted at those areas being perfect for development jobs as well as African communities I could identify with. In Illinois, I narrowed my search to Chicago and its neighboring cities.
When I saw the job ad on Indeed for the communications manager of the GPEDC, I was intrigued—never had I heard of Peoria, but the job description was interesting. So I said, why not? It had a regional scope, and my last real job with USAID’s West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change Program was a regional project covering 15 West African countries. Check! Long story short, I applied and secured an interview.
The day I got the call from Chris Setti, the CEO, offering the position of communications manager at the GPEDC, I was elated and full of dread at the same time. I was psyching myself up to say goodbye to Las Vegas, but when he told me they’d want me in Peoria in just a month, I was on tenterhooks. Regardless, I had gone with my gut and committed; there was no turning back.
During my initial research trip to Peoria, I was concerned about two things: the percentage of people of color (especially Blacks) in Peoria, and how LGBTQ-friendly the region was. What I found was convincing, which helped calm the nerves of friends and loved ones who had been truly worried about the move. I, on the other hand, was not so worried because I grew up and survived in a homophobic country. If I survived there, I could survive anywhere else.
One of my references asked me if I had heard the phrase, “Will it play in Peoria?” Of course, I hadn’t. I blamed this on the fact that I was an immigrant who’d barely been in the United States for three years. Another asked, “Why Peoria?” My response was, “It is a really great job, and I will be making an impact, so I am going to take it.”
The way I saw it, I had landed a great opportunity to finally get my hands on something fulfilling for the first time in three years: working in development, the kind of work that has an impact on a region. I loved the different components of the GPEDC, which presented a range of opportunities for me.
A Vibrant City
Three months in, I find myself asking: Why is Peoria not talked about as much as it should be? It’s the birthplace of Caterpillar and the “Whiskey Capital of the World.” Yes, these are perhaps what you would call past glories, but as I look around and get to know the city and its people, I realize it is still vibrant with amazing things. The entrepreneurial and manufacturing spirit of Peoria lives on.
Driving around looking for food on my first night, I exclaimed to my friend, “It is not a small town; it is actually a small, urban city!” There is a quality of life here that doesn’t get enough credit. It is not just the quality; it is an affordable place to live, too! And the people truly are the best thing about this place.
I know it is early still, but I am really optimistic about the future and building a home here in Peoria. I am absolutely certain that I made the right decision to move here. I know that all the great things I have discovered about the region are really just the tip of the iceberg, and I look forward to how much more Peoria is going to pleasantly surprise me! PM