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A Publication of WTVP

The current Greater Peoria Vision 2020 vision statement is: "A growing, high quality community with a strong economy and a healthy, well-educated population."

Growth can mean various things, but in terms of our central Illinois community, I'm referring to population growth. One of the comments Mayor David Ransburg makes repeatedly is that "if you don't grow, ultimately you die." We'll need real population growth over the next 25 years for the vision to be considered successful.

How important is population growth? Just ask the City of Pittsburgh, a shining example of how the lack of population growth is hurting its future. Pittsburgh was the greatest U.S. industrial city of the 19th century. As steel-making faded in the 1960s and 1970s, the city reinvented itself as a center of finance, medicine, and education. Pittsburgh is home to two of the nation's largest financial institutions: Mellon Financial and PNC Bank. It's headquarters for Alcoa, U.S. Steel, and H.J. Heinz. The University of Pittsburgh is the city's largest employer. Students flock to Pitt, Carnegie Mellon University, and Duquesne University. Pittsburgh was named the nation's most livable city in 1985 and continues to rank high on quality-of-life comparisons.

Unfortunately, Pittsburgh's population dwindled from 604,332 in 1960 to 327,898 in 2002, an astounding decrease of 45.7 percent. The city has run an annual deficit of at least $37 million since 1993. Debt payments consume nearly 20 percent of its budget (Peoria's debt is 12 percent of its budget). Another significant factor in the city's financial distress: The universities, hospitals, and other cultural institutions that have driven Pittsburgh's renaissance are non-profit organizations exempt from property taxes. Sound familiar? Six of the largest 10 employers in central Illinois are non-profits.

How important is growth to our future? According to the Census and Data User Services, Illinois State University: For the six surrounding counties of Peoria-Tazewell, Woodford, Ful-ton, Marshall, Knox and Stark-the population is estimated to grow from 466,068 in 2000 to 478,068 in 2020. That's 0.01 percent annually-no growth. If the 1980 census of 485,637 is used as the baseline, we've actually declined by 5.6 percent in 40 years.

For the immediate tri-county area, the population estimates are 362,677 in 2000 to 367,512 in 2020, an increase of 14,835 or 0.2 percent annually. If the 1980 census of 365,864 is again used as the baseline, an increase of 1,648 is projected. Again, no growth in 40 years.

The Pittsburgh scenario is the realistic slap in the face to remind ourselves that we need more than just the right infrastructure in place-or the right strategies or the right implementation plans. In the final analysis, the strategies and resulting outcomes must lead to real population growth. As the Vision 2020 process gets started, at some point in the future if we don't see real population growth in central Illinois, one has to wonder whether we, indeed, have been successful. IBI

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