To say the least, the past month and a half has been an emotional rollercoaster in our region, state and nation. Already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, but relieved by the gradual reopening of businesses in early June, we all watched in horror at a video of George Floyd being killed by police in Minneapolis. This image, arriving on our screens on the heels of the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, ignited a nation and our own community.
Though the initial protests and rallies centered on police brutality and calls for reform, the underlying issue is one of an inequitable system that yields unequal outcomes for African Americans. There are many forces at play in this system – political, legal, educational, housing. All of them need to be addressed if we truly believe that Black Lives Matter, but fundamental to the issue is economics. The statistics are telling. A 2019 report by Governing magazine used Census data to shine a light on disparities between black and white families in Illinois. Median black household income in the Peoria metropolitan area was $28,019. In contrast, the median white household income was $60,570.
To be clear, the issue of racial economic disparity is not just a City of Peoria issue. While the majority of African American families live in Peoria, this struggle is one of regional significance. It can be easy to think that if the problem is not in my town that it is not my problem. But we cannot be truly prosperous as a region if a significant portion of our community is left behind. And just as the problem is not Peoria’s alone, neither is the solution. It will take all of us working together to ensure success.
As an organization charged with leading the charge toward better economic outcomes, Greater Peoria EDC must be at the center of this work. A key way in which we commit to helping is through our leadership in developing the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). This effort, already underway, lays to course for the next five years of improving our economy. Recognizing that economic inequity and racial disparity is a critical challenge for the region, we will use this planning opportunity to develop specific strategies to raise families out of poverty. Just as importantly, we can use an equity lens to view and inform other, broader strategies to improve our economy. For example, a key strategy within the CEDS will be to make our region more attractive to both domestic and foreign investment. Within that strategy, how can we focus some attention on identifying and developing sites within low-income areas so that any resulting jobs might be available to nearby residents? As we develop workforce solutions to match job seekers with employers, how can we tailor our programming to ensure minority and poor youth and adults are able to take advantage of programming? As we look to support the startup community, how can we ensure that opportunities to build business and wealth are available to all parts of our community?
Economic development is at the heart of economic justice. We cannot be successful as an organization if we do not wade into these issues and play an active role in finding solutions. Our pledge is this: to listen, to learn, and to lead. We invite you to join us in this work.