June 21, 2021

Be an Advocate for Greater Peoria

I moved to Peoria 18 years ago. We relocated here from Denver, but I’m originally from the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank. We chose Peoria for a pretty ordinary reason: my wife, who I first met while living in Chicago, is from Peoria Heights. With one daughter already, and the desire to have more children, the pull to live closer to family became very real. The choice between my family in southern California and hers here in Peoria was pretty easy: There was no way we could afford life in the insane LA housing market. I was lucky enough to have a job at that time that allowed me to relocate and work remotely, before working remotely was cool. We found a great old house in Peoria’s Uplands neighborhood, 2 years later I hooked on with the City of Peoria’s economic development department and we’ve never looked back.

Our Peoria story is a typical one. My unscientific survey of fellow immigrants divides folks into two camps: moved here to take a job or moved here to be closer to family. Both camps are easy to understand. Our region is blessed with nationally and internationally known companies like Caterpillar, Komatsu, RLI and Maui Jim, companies who will always grab the best talent from every corner of the globe. Talent attraction to our hospitals and universities almost requires relocations since our local educational institutions do not produce enough credentialed professionals to meet the need for MDs and PhDs. For the boomerang immigrant, the pull of family and friends can be strong. Combined with the region’s affordability and quality of life, the pull can be nearly irresistible. With corporate America realizing that remote workers can be effective, we are seeing more and more former Peorians choosing to return home.

But increasingly, we are seeing people move to Peoria just because. Of course, it isn’t “just because.” They find the area in a multitude of ways. Maybe they have friends here, or went to Bradley, or have other business relationships that connect them to Greater Peoria. But would anyone move here because they watched a 45-second video on TikTok? The Peoria Journal Star recently profiled the efforts of Angie Ostaszewski, a local Ameren employee and social media “influencer” who has used TikTok to spread the news about how great and affordable Peoria is. Her account, @angieslistings, has 23,800 followers (and counting). She starts each post about a different house the same way, “My name is Angie, and I’m not a Realtor, but I live in super affordable Peoria, Illinois, and I think you should live here, too.” She usually features a particular house, but also uses her channel to talk about jobs, culture, restaurants, and other great things about living here.  Her enthusiasm is infectious, and you can tell in watching just a few of her posts that she really loves Peoria.

To date, over 20 people have moved to the area due to Angie’s TikTok posts. That might seem too incredible to believe, but it is absolutely true. A few weeks ago, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce and GPEDC helped Angie sponsor a “Welcome to Peoria” party for the people who have moved to the area, either because of Angie’s influence or otherwise. (Pictures of the event below). Over 40 people showed up at some point during the evening. I had a chance to speak with one couple who moved here from Salt Lake City. Both started working as full-time remote employees during COVID and decided that the high cost of living in Salt Lake City just was not worth it. They stumbled across Angie’s TikTok and made the leap to simply pick up and move here. They are currently renovating a century’s old home in Peoria’s West Bluff and are loving their new life here.

We do not need everyone to start their own TikTok pages to promote our region, but we all do have a role we can play. Do you have friends or family who live outside the area who complain about long commute times or a high cost of living? Suggest to them that they think about what life might look like if they moved here. Do you have colleagues in other parts of your company who are now remote workers? Invite them to join you here. How can you use your social media channel of choice to share what you love about our community? It can be as simple as sharing others’ posts about Greater Peoria (you can start by making sure you are following the social media accounts of GPEDC and other civic boosters like Discover Peoria, local chambers and local governments). When you see someone complaining about the area, take the opportunity to give a positive spin on things. The truth is, people are watching. Everyone is an influencer of some degree, even if you don’t have 23,000+ followers like Angie. You love living here, and you can introduce others to the same great life.