A Publication of WTVP

It’s a lovely site to behold: a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie. The avenues are filled with men, women, and children experiencing the new retail development that’s changing the way central Illinois shops.

The success of the Shoppes is significant in many ways, and local avid shoppers aren’t the only ones seeing the benefits. Look around. Those shoppers filling the walks at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie aren’t just from the house next door. They’re coming from 60 to 90 miles away. They’re coming to the Peoria area, where they can enjoy experiences not found elsewhere in downstate Illinois.

The recent opening of the Shoppes at Grand Prairie was a significant development representing something much greater than a demand for shopping options. The Shoppes at Grand Prairie is a symbol of regional growth in central Illinois.

In fact, the Shoppes aren’t alone. There are many similar symbols of growth throughout the Peoria area. The recognition of Peoria as the Downstate Medical Center of Illinois is another sign of the regional draw of Peoria area service providers. Our hospitals have a truly regional constituency. Wildlife Prairie Park, the Peoria Park District, Peoria riverfront events, and the Glen Oak Zoo consistently bring families to the area. The Peoria Civic Center, Lakeview Museum, and many other arts venues attract thousands to their dynamic events and exhibits. Sports programs such as Bradley University basketball, the Peoria Chiefs baseball team, the Peoria Rivermen hockey team, and the Peoria Pirates Arena football team drive a great deal of our prosperity and contribute to our cultural diversity.

Educational institutions like Illinois Central College and Bradley University are magnets for the best and brightest from throughout the region and beyond. The Greater Peoria Regional Airport serves the businesses and people throughout a 90-mile radius of the airport. Individuals and families come to the Peoria area to work, play, shop, and learn, making the Peoria area the downstate destination of choice in today’s marketplace.

There’s a message here for all of us. The message that needs to be told is that the Peoria area has an immense regional draw. The catchment area of a metropolitan area is often measured in terms of the size of its Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), a designation identified by the federal government. This designation is important in that it’s a consistently recognizable metric used by site selectors, retail management companies, consultants, and corporations. The oft-sited rankings published by economic development professionals are all based on MSA metrics.

These metrics aren’t just numbers, however; they’re meant to represent the economic vitality of a region-and our numbers are going up.

Until just recently, the Peoria-Pekin MSA included only Peoria, Tazewell, and Woodford counties. Under that designation, the MSA’s population was 347,387, placing it at number 118 in the 280 national MSAs.

Thanks to a recent redistricting of the MSA, however, Marshall and Stark counties have been annexed into the Peoria-Pekin MSA. This re-designation signifies the draw of the Peoria area in terms of employment, retail activity patterns, and service delivery. In fact, the expansion moves Peoria-Pekin up several places in the MSA population rankings.

The re-designation of the MSA is testament to the fact that the Peoria area serves as a hub for a large geographic area. People from throughout Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, Marshall, and Stark counties travel to the Peoria area for employment, shopping, medical services, entertainment, and other experiential services. Thirty-three percent of Stark County employed residents and 29.7 percent of Marshall County employed individuals are employed in Peoria or Tazewell County.

The expansion brings with it many positive implications. Retail and service industries often look for MSAs that meet the magical number of 450,000 people. While this expansion still leaves the Peoria-Pekin MSA short of the magical marketing number, it’s an important hallmark nonetheless. Under the new boundaries, the MSA population is 366,899-an expansion that will enable the Peoria area to compete more effectively when trying to draw retail developments to the area.

But the message isn’t complete yet. Many would argue the recent expansion should have included Fulton County. While the federal government hasn’t formally recognized the Peoria-Pekin area’s draw with residents of that county, the distinction is clear to those of us who live in this area.

In addition, the catchment area will only continue to grow as this region further develops. A thriving arts industry, a new museum in the works, a beautiful new baseball stadium, a strong and innovative medical district, a powerful logistics industry, and the easily recognizable retail developments are all bringing people into the Peoria area on a regular basis. It’s time for central Illinois to tell the world what our MSA is telling us. We have it all. IBI