Those who know me (and that might not be many of you reading this) know that I am not from Peoria. I was born in Southern California – the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank, to be exact. How does a Westerner end up a Midwesterner? Well, college brought me to the Midwest, a postgraduate Chicago introduced me to my Peoria-born wife, and after a 4-year side trip to Denver, we chose to be closer to family here in Central Illinois. Why am I bothering you with the short story of my life? Because I want you to know that I chose to move to Peoria and I chose to stay in Peoria. And I love it here and want others to appreciate this amazing community.
I didn’t always love it here because I didn’t even really know that Peoria existed. When I met the woman who is now my wife in the urban hustle and bustle of Chicago, she said that she wasn’t interested in living in Peoria. “OK by me,” I said, “I don’t even know where that is.” But after a few years of marriage, the pull of being closer to family tugged on us and the reality of California’s unaffordability made Peoria the best option for our growing family. I had really only been here a handful of times and nearly always for family functions that were confined to church and the living room. (I only remember going to two places outside of my in-laws’ house before our return in 2003: bowling with cousins at Mt. Hawley and having dinner at the River Station.)
What I found in Greater Peoria was a vibrant and welcoming community. I found a better house, in a better neighborhood, for about $100,000 less than the house I just sold in Denver. I found a beautiful city carved out of vast farmland and the bluffs of the Illinois River. I found neighbors who became great friends. I found a public school system in District 150 that gave my daughters both an amazing education and a grounding in diversity, tolerance, and generosity. I found a career in economic development that I didn’t even know was a career and together my wife and I built the life we imagined when we first met.
I share all of this because, for many of you, this is also your story. And for the rest of you, it could be. Last year, the Greater Peoria EDC joined forces with the CEO Council, Discover Peoria, and a host of other local partners to launch GP2030. The GP2030 initiative aims to tell the story of Greater Peoria as a great place to live, work and play to the rest of the world. Our first efforts were around marketing – delivering a message to outsiders that Greater Peoria offered a high quality of living at an incredibly affordable price. Through social media posts, billboards, and articles in traditional media, we hope to make people aware of the great opportunities that are here. We’ve started organizing and sponsoring periodic parties to welcome new residents to the region. And recognizing that we have a whole army of supporters already here, this week we are organizing our first “Welcome Wagon” training event. The event will share with real estate agents, human resource professionals, and any other Greater Peoria ambassador the tools and information we have developed to help them do their job.
While the focus of GP2030 seems outward, there is also an inside game to be played. Too often, residents of our area fail to realize how great Greater Peoria really is. I am in no way saying that we do not have serious problems that require hard work and smart solutions, but every community has issues. But oftentimes it feels easier to focus on the negatives and completely miss the positives. We hope that while sharing our story with outsiders that GP2030 also helps our own citizens understand the value of this place. In the end, we are all ambassadors for Greater Peoria. The way we talk about our community – to family and friends, on social media, etc. – has an impact. For those of you who already live here, I invite you to join us in sharing why you love it here. Together, we can be a magnet and make a great place even greater.