April 19, 2024

GPEDC Weekend Update- April 19, 2024


Here are some updates to end your week. 

CareerSpark Kickoff: If you can believe it, it’s already time to start planning for the 8th Annual CareerSpark expo. (OK, the GPEDC-Junior Achievement team never really isn’t planning for it.) This week we assembled the volunteer co-chairs for each industry zone at Goodwill to reflect on last year’s event, discuss the timeline, and collaborate on improvements we can make this year to make the event better than ever. This is truly a volunteer-driven effort, with over 400 people sharing a bit of their time each year to help. Our co-chairs are our “chief volunteers” and ensure each industry area has fun and educational opportunities for attendees. Since 2017, CareerSpark has inspired over 25,000 8th graders through hands-on exploration of many different careers in our region. Check out our 2023 recap video here. The 2024 CareerSpark will be held at the Peoria Civic Center on October 1-2. Volunteer registration will open in May, so stay tuned for more info coming soon. 

RLI: Trivia time – What does RLI stand for? Those steeped in Peoria history or old enough to remember when this was necessary will know it stands for Replacement Lens Insurance. Founded in 1965 to address risk around the expense of replacing contact lenses, RLI has been a leading provider of specialty insurance for nearly 60 years. While contacts are now relatively inexpensive and totally disposable, RLI has not stopped innovating to meet the needs of today’s businesses (and a smidgen of individuals). I had a chance to meet with the leadership team of RLI last Friday to learn more about the company and its impact on Greater Peoria. While RLI has a national footprint with offices and operations in nearly every state, the largest concentration of employees is right here in north Peoria, with over 400 workers. They have a beautiful facility in north Peoria, and I was particularly impressed by their commitment to sustainability. A large solar field adjacent to their property generates enough renewable energy to completely power their local operations and sell a bit back to the grid. We are lucky to have RLI in our region both for their economic and environmental impact. My thanks to Craig, Todd, and Lisa for spending a part of their busy day with me.

Central Illinois AgTech: We enjoy being a part of a larger regional collaboration around agricultural technology. Last week, Kathie participated in the Champaign County AgTech Breakfast.  This is a great opportunity to interface with the regional ecosystem of global ag companies, startups, farmers, investors, government, Parkland College, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She heard from Ken Paige of Frenzy Crop Systems, a company whose innovation increases yields in soybean growth by 30%, creates larger root nodules, and improves insect resistance. The team is growing with employees and field trials throughout the Midwest and Great Plains states. Representatives from Nutrien discussed their focus on digital technologies and weather data to improve farm performance. Nutrien is the largest crop input company with 2,000 retail locations and 69 million acres, which are scouted with data. They are opening a new 280-acre Nutrien Innovation Farm in Champaign County and welcome proof-of-concept collaborations with companies on pre-commercial seed trials. Attending events like this helps connect the Greater Peoria startup ecosystem to other regional partners.

Big Ideas: If you want to see the products and services of tomorrow, make sure to check out the Big Idea competition organized by Bradley University’s Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The Bradley student teams that have reached the finals will be making their final pitches before a panel of judges on April 22 from 4 – 6 pm at the Peplow Pavilion. I had a chance to judge pitches in the first round of the competition and was blown away by some of the ideas presented. WCBU did a very nice write up on the event here.

Economic Development Forum: I’ve mentioned this for the last few weeks, but this is truly your last chance. The breakfast order goes in today, so if you want to join us for our first-ever Economic Development Forum, you need to act fast. Our guest speaker is Jay Garner, author of Economic Development is STILL Not for Amateurs. Thanks to a generous sponsorship by Ameren Illinois, every attendee will walk away with a copy of Jay’s book. The event is on April 24 from 8 am – 10:30 am at the Gateway Building. Tickets are just $25 for non-investors. Click here for more information.

Have a great weekend.