As you can imagine, I’m a big proponent of a regional approach to economic development: the borders between communities are fluid and when employers are strong in one community it benefits all our communities. While the work ultimately has to be focussed to some degree on certain geographies, success anywhere in Greater Peoria has a ripple effect on the rest of the area. But is that approach limited just to the five counties of Greater Peoria?
Allow me to introduce you to the “Midstate 6,” the informal nickname of an informal group of Central Illinois economic development organizations: in addition to the GPEDC, the group includes the Bloomington-Normal EDC, Champaign County EDC, the EDC of Decatur-Macon County, the Springfield-Sangamon Growth Alliance, and Tuscola Chamber & Economic Development. The group probably started meeting four or five years ago (prior to me joining the GPEDC so I’m a bit fuzzy on the history). COVID has put a crimp in our ability to meet in person, but we’ve still found ways to connect virtually and build strong relationships.
Why would six different organizations care to work together? Well, the group has a few reasons to exist. First, networking is always good. We are all fairly seasoned economic development professionals but with varied experiences. We’ve come to rely on each other to help think through problems, share resources, and occasionally complain about this or that. Second, some of us have genuine business between us, and knowing each other can help improve outcomes. For example, the new Rivian plant in Normal is not just a win for McLean County, but also a win for Greater Peoria. With hiring goals north of 1000 people, Rivian will absolutely draw talent from our region (nearly 50% of Mitsubishi’s workforce came from Greater Peoria before they closed). Their EDC director, Patrick, has been helpful in trying to connect us with Rivian’s HR leadership so that we can align our workforce systems with their needs. In another example, given the incredible partnership in place between OSF Healthcare and the U of I Champaign Urbana, we’ve started a conversation with Carly at the Champaign County EDC to collaborate on startup and innovation activity. And when Nicole from Decatur was asked to make a presentation to a group of site selectors, she offered to represent all of us and not just her community.
Beyond trading war stories and working on projects, the “Midstate 6” hope to collaborate to tell the story of Central Illinois. Illinois is like lots of other states: It has one really big metropolitan area that gets a ton of attention. It’s hard to ignore Chicago when you market Illinois, and as amazing as we know Peoria is, it can be pretty easily overshadowed by our cousins to the north. But if Central Illinois can band together and tell our collective story, we can compete head-to-head with any metropolitan area. Our advantages are numerous. Housing and the cost of doing business is a fraction of the cost of major metro areas. Our educational institutions produce a ready-made workforce and are generators of innovation. In the time it would take you to drive from Naperville to downtown Chicago you can get from downtown Peoria to downtown Urbana. And unlike bigger cities, in our part of Illinois, you can have instant access to decision-makers and don’t need to wade through your typical bureaucracy.
Over the next year, we’ve committed to honing this message and creating greater awareness of Central Illinois. We are working now on a website we can all use as part of our own marketing efforts. We are developing some strategies for how we talk about ourselves collectively while still preserving the unique opportunities presented by our home regions. Just like the individual communities of Greater Peoria understand that a regional approach to economic development will lead to more wins, the “Midstate 6” realize that we are better off working together than as rivals. It’s great to have such amazing partners in this work. More to come!