Those of us who live and work in Greater Peoria know how amazing our community is. At Greater Peoria EDC our job is to share that knowledge with the rest of the country and the world. But sometimes the telling only goes so far; you also need to show it. In early June, Our partners at Intersect Illinois, the state’s economic development marketing organization, brought three relocation and expansion consultants (“site selectors”) to Central Illinois. Under the new leadership of CEO Dan Seals, Intersect has committed to showcasing all of Illinois and not just the Chicago area. Making good on that promise, they organized a “familiarization tour” with consultants who have clients in the electric and autonomous vehicle industry. What a better place to discuss this growing field than the Peoria and Bloomington-Normal areas: home to Caterpillar (the company responsible for the most actual autonomous miles driven), Komatsu (where every mining truck that rolls off the line is autonomous-ready), AutonomouStuff (the world leader in autonomous innovation), and of course Rivian.
Three consultants, one each from Chicago, Indianapolis, and Greenville (SC), spent two and a half days visiting our region and our friends next door in McLean County. We outlined our region’s numerous strengths, had discussions about our workforce development pipeline, showcased some of our available properties, and toured AutonomouStuff in Morton and the Rivian plant in Normal. The consultants were even treated to a driverless ride in a fully autonomous shuttle in the parking lot of AutonomouStuff. The trip was a mixture of business and pleasure because we know that location decisions are also about quality of life. Our friends at Ameren Illinois sponsored a great evening that included dinner at Black Band distillery and a luxury box at a Peoria Chiefs baseball game. (It didn’t hurt that the weather was absolutely perfect!) The following day, Wabash Valley Power Alliance sponsored a casual reception at BloNo Pizza & Golf, followed by a very nice dinner in downtown Bloomington. The opportunity to interact with the consultants outside of the scheduled presentations and tours was incredibly valuable.
It is important to note that we were joined on the visit by our economic development partners in Springfield, Decatur, and Champaign-Urbana. Together with us and the Bloomington-Normal EDC, we comprise the “Mid Illinois Collaborative” and strive to work together to market this amazing “super” region. In the Friday morning report-out by the consultants, they noted the importance of this sort of collaboration. One consultant commented that there are over 3500 counties in the US and that every one of them is a “great place to live, work and play.” The consultants will never remember each of them individually but will remember entire regions. There has never been a more important time to think regionally and realize that Greater Peoria is a bigger part of an amazing part of the Midwest.
Apart from being impressed with our collaborative nature, the consultants highlighted three core strengths:
- Innovation: I think our deep research and development assets surprised the consultants. One, in particular, said he thought of Central Illinois as a place that makes things more than invent and improve things. Between Caterpillar’s Tech Center in Mossville, the AgLab, medical advancements from OSF Innovation and the Peoria Cancer Research Center, and cutting-edge companies like AutonomouStuff and Natural Fiber Welding, our region punches well above its weight when it comes to this area.
- Sustainability: Speaking of Natural Fiber Welding, the consultants were also impressed by our region’s focus on sustainability. Rivian and NFW are obvious examples of this emerging industry with a foothold in Central Illinois. The region also has ample wind and solar energy developments, in addition to cutting-edge projects like ADM’s carbon sequestration project in Decatur and the carbon pipeline planned to run through Greater Peoria. Increasingly, national and international corporations are attuned to environmental issues and seek out communities who share those values.
- Workforce: Finally, and most importantly, the consultants remarked on the strength of our workforce systems. Any site selector will tell you that the most important issue for companies is talent – how much is available and how much will be available. During the visit, they got to meet with two Illinois Central College representatives who talked about their Agricultural and Industrial Technologies program and were able to visit with Heartland Community College to discuss their new electric vehicle manufacturing program. These flexible and responsive programs are important for our existing companies and the ones we are trying to attract. The consultants specifically praised the Illinois Workforce Equity Initiative being led by ICC, a program that provides low-income and minority individuals quality training that results in careers that pay 30% more than the living wage. These are the types of programs that we need to continue investing in and showcasing.
Telling our story is great and important work, but the old adage is true: Seeing is believing. We cannot bring every site consultant to the region (though we are hosting another showcase this October), but we can continue to build relationships and make the case for Greater Peoria and Central Illinois. My thanks to Intersect Illinois for arranging the trip, and in particular my thanks to Lenora for all her hard work in helping make all the local details happen.