“I can’t believe the great lineup of speakers every year!” “The trip was outstanding!” “The Peoria Chamber and Congressman LaHood’s staff did a wonderful job!” “I can’t wait until next year!” “This was the best Fly In ever!” Such are the various responses to a survey given by the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce to those who have attended the annual Washington D.C. Fly In.

Each year, usually in May, the Peoria Area Chamber, in conjunction with Congressman Ray LaHood’s office, facilitates a four-day trip to our U.S. capital. Those of us who have had the opportunity to attend the Fly In know the value returned for the time and expenditure given. We’ve experienced a very high level of access to personalities who are on the cutting edge of our national security, military, judicial system, space program, and national media.

We can meet and question established leadership of our country or be introduced to our emerging, freshmen leadership. It’s virtually impossible to receive this type of access and candor in any other venue or format. LaHood and his staff have consistently arranged great interaction between Fly In participants and elected and/or appointed officials from both sides of the political aisle. After each speaker addresses our group, LaHood encourages us to ask questions and usually tells us “no question is off limits.”

Over the past few years, our Fly In meeting room has been located in the Library of Congress—considered by many in Washington D.C. to be the most beautiful building in our capital. We’ve been fortunate to have with our group, in previous years, Dr. Jack Gilligan of the Fayette Companies. His great love for the foundational principles of our nation has driven him to become a serious student of the history of the Library of Congress. We’ve been enriched by his knowledge of the structure, art, and philosophy behind it all. We anticipate another private and informative history lesson from him during Fly In 2003.

Imagine spending a morning directly interacting with George Tenet, director of the CIA; Admiral Vern Clark, chief of U.S. Naval Operations; Scott Altman, NASA astronaut; Cokie Roberts, ABC co-anchor; Bill Press, co-host of CNN’s Crossfire; or Charlie Cook, publisher of the Cook Political Report. Then, break for hot Krispy Kreme donuts and back to Senators Dick Durbin or Peter Fitzgerald, with Congressman Dick Gephardt finishing the session.

In the afternoon, the pace quickens with Congressman John Lewis or J.C. Watts; news celebrities Sam Donaldson of ABC, Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball, Brit Hume of Fox News, or Helen Thomas of the White House Press Corps. Former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr shares his perspective of impeachment proceedings, and Brian Comb, chairman and CEO of C-Span, talks behind the scenes.

In 2002, we were honored to have a private audience with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia after a tour of the Supreme Court Chambers. Again, the Chamber Fly In provides participants access not commonly available. No other venue offers such direct interaction with those who make national news on a daily basis.

Those attending the Fly In each year represent a wide sampling of our communities, such as local council members, mayors, Chamber staff, small business owners and employees, large business representatives, county and township representatives, union officials, firefighters, regional planning officials, and educators. The Peoria Area Chamber Fly In includes participants from the Peoria area, Jacksonville, and Springfield. People from these various communities come together for a few days then return home with new contacts, fresh ideas, and potential business opportunities.

Many have said on the survey that they consider benefits of the Fly In to be the networking and the bridge building among Chamber members. When not receiving the famous and powerful, Fly In attendees have opportunities, in small or large groups, to visit monuments and museums; play golf; shop in Georgetown; conduct personal, corporate, or union business; or just hang out with a casual dinner in one of the area’s fabulous restaurants. Many new business relationships are formed during these informal gatherings.

The 2003 Fly In to Washington D.C. is scheduled for May 17 to 20. Space is limited, so early registration is strongly suggested. We anticipate another great lineup of personalities scheduled by LaHood and his staff.

For more information, call 495-5923. IBI