It was 1849, and the greatest adventure America had ever seen was taking place. Thousands of Americans left the comfort of their homes in search of gold—gold that would feed their families, furnish their houses, and fulfill their dreams.

Interestingly enough, the initial discovery of gold in California was made by two men who entirely disregarded the potential of their find. John Sutter saw the gold simply as something that would distract him from his mission of building an agricultural empire.

Ignorance isn’t always bliss. Unfortunately, great as Sutter’s plans might have been, his lack of foresight came at a high price. Sutter lacked the entrepreneurial spirit of the new Californians, and he certainly didn’t have the foresight to see the potential of his discovery. He couldn’t see past his narrow vision of what his land was meant to be—an agricultural empire.

In the California of 1849, Sutter was no more than an obstacle in the path to fortune. The 49ers literally trampled his crops and tore down his fort for the building materials. The man who had the best opportunity to capitalize on the discovery of gold never even tried.

Today, word of a New Gold Rush is spreading, and the stakes are even higher. The New Gold Rush is on, but the search is for a different kind of gold. Throughout the nation, competitive cities are diving head on into the quest for the hottest entrepreneurial talent and the ideas to busy them with. Today’s gold is intellectual property, and central Illinois has joined the hunt.

If you think your 1849 Gold Rush map still applies, think again. The illusion that America’s intellectual jackpots are located only out West is fool’s gold. When the Next Steps forum got started, presentations came from individuals from the Chicago area and other larger venues. Now, however, presenters often come from within a 40-minute radius of Peoria.

Look no further. We can’t rely solely on attracting fast-growth startups from other areas. The next hot concept can yield gold from our own back yards. Streams of gold run thick in the talent driving our own central Illinois tech labs. Entrepreneurs from throughout the region represent the mines of the new millennium. Nuggets of intellectual property dot the tri-county landscape. The riches are here. It’s time to harvest.

Just as the original Gold Rush gave birth to the great metropolis of San Francisco, the New Gold Rush can give rise to growth and prosperity that will drive central Illinois into the future.

The stakes are high. This is no time for the Suttons of the world to doubt the relevance of entrepreneurialism. Small start-up businesses are the engine of tomorrow’s economy. In 10 years, 85 percent of the nation’s new employees will work for companies of 50 to 75 employees. Knowledge-based activities will dominate all new jobs, and it will all be traced back to the fledgling entrepreneurs of today. Our jobs and the jobs of our children depend on central Illinois’ entrepreneurial culture today.

The New Gold Rush is on. More than 150 years after the original rush launched the West into a new era, central Illinois is on the cusp of another great American adventure. The adventure of the new millennium is the free agent market, the new culture of entrepreneurialism. The choice for central Illinois is whether to embrace the Gold Rush, or ignore it. We hope you’ll stake your claim now. IBI