More than $1 billion is invested each year in research and development in the Peoria area. This level of R&D investment is significant, even to the industry leaders in technology development today. With so much at stake, where are the economic returns from this investment?
Communities like Louisville and Kalamazoo have reaped great economic rewards from the research investment in their regions. These regions have become hotbeds of activity, where new companies continuously cycle into and out of the development system.
Substantial investment in research and development is certainly not new to central Illinois. Why hasn’t this region realized benefits of the same economic magnitude that Louisville and Kalamazoo have realized? Where’s the economic growth that should accompany the commercialization of this research and technology?
The answer is that our returns have typically gone elsewhere. The technologies and products of central Illinois research and development have historically left the area for three reasons: a lack of places for these ventures to incubate, a lack of available early and mid-stage investment capital, and the absence of a system of business development facilitation, as was revealed by the strategic plan completed by the Battelle Memorial Institute Technology Partnership Practice in 2001.
Central Illinois can’t let this continue to happen, and Peoria NEXT and its partners have taken and continue to take steps to stem this technology drain from siphoning the economic potential from our region.
Peoria NEXT is working to build a place for new ventures to grow. The City of Peoria has created the Peoria Medical and Technology District, a section of Peoria envisioned to be a mixed-use corridor with emphasis on creating an environment where citizens can live, work, and play without great dependence on automobile travel. The location of the district was designed to capitalize on the close proximity to resources including businesses, residential areas, and educational and commercial institutions within the West Main Street corridor.
The proposed Peoria NEXT Innovation Center will be located within the district and will provide a place for commercialization in central Illinois. Outside of Chicago and Champaign, the presence of a full service business and technology incubator space is greatly lacking. The Peoria NEXT Innovation Center will provide an urgently needed home for growing businesses and effectively stem the loss of commercialization and entrepreneurial resources from central Illinois.
The long-term impact will be substantial as small firms grow, become stable graduates, and take up permanent residence within the project area and the community. Most importantly, the $1 billion in research and development that takes place in central Illinois each year will have a place to be commercialized. The Innovation Center will help stop the intellectual property drain from central Illinois.
Peoria NEXT has a powerful facilitation system in place. Through the establishment of a unique collaborative system, Peoria NEXT has developed a facilitative environment that provides entrepreneurs, scientists, and businesses the guidance and support they need to navigate the commercialization process. The Heartland Illinois Technology Enterprise Center; Turner Center for Entrepreneurship in the Foster College of Business Administration at Bradley University; Economic Development Council for Central Illinois; Illinois Central College; and the professional resources at USDA-NCAUR, Caterpillar, and the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria all connect to provide a collaborative system unique in its ability to serve the high technology businesses of the Knowledge Economy.
Commercialization demands money, and now the foundation is being forged to ensure that this vital financing will be available as well. Several venture capital groups from the Midwest have taken notice of what’s going on in Peoria and regularly attend NEXT Steps meetings. One venture capital group is looking into establishing a presence in Peoria. A local venture capital group of our very own is in the works and should be in place shortly. In addition, HITEC has recently established a Pre-Seed Fund investing to help assist start-up commercialization efforts.
Peoria NEXT is dedicated to leveraging the tremendous local research and development investment to stimulate economic growth in central Illinois. The retention of these opportunities has the potential to give rise to scores of companies and significant job generation. It’s through the efforts of Peoria NEXT and the Peoria area business community that this region’s investment will yield real returns, right here in central Illinois. IBI