One thing that has always impressed me about Greater Peoria is the breadth and depth of our caring community. As a small- to midsize city and region, I feel that we punch above our weight when it comes to creating and maintaining a social safety net. Our human service providers provide housing, education, job training, health care, protection, and empowerment (to mention just a few) to our most vulnerable citizens, from infants to seniors. So why would a newsletter article for an economic development organization focus on the region’s nonprofit sector? Because the way our community cares has a tremendous economic impact.
First and foremost, Greater Peoria seeks to tackle its problems. No region in America is spared from having vulnerable populations. Like the rest of the nation, poverty, homelessness, sickness, and violence are “wicked problems” that plague our urban core and rural communities. But Greater Peoria owns its problems and seeks solutions that lift up the community. We are blessed with amazing service providers dedicated to creating positive outcomes for their clients. As I’ve said in this space before, a robust and equitable workforce pipeline is a key to economic success and business growth. But it is more than just placing people into jobs; it is about making sure that our citizens’ needs are met when they can’t meet them on their own. Individuals cannot be productive workers and contribute to our economy if they don’t have a roof over their head, proper and nutritious meals, reliable transportation, and a host of other considerations. Our network of social service providers are the first responders of the workforce system.
A generous community is also an attractive community. We need to do a better job of touting how giving Peorians are. On a per capita basis, the Heart of Illinois United Way is one of the most well-supported United Way chapters in the entire nation. In 2021, our United Way raised over $9.1 million! The endowment of the Community Foundation of Central Illinois exceeded $75 million last year and distributed $5.5 million in grants and scholarships. Our nonprofit organizations give people an opportunity to serve their communities as volunteers and board members. And families who have special needs can readily find help in Greater Peoria, from services for children with disabilities to behavioral health issues.
Finally, and not insignificantly, our human services sector has a tremendous direct economic impact. What sort of cheering would happen if a new company that employs 100 people chose Greater Peoria? But consider this: According to a survey conducted by the Human Services Collaborative in Peoria, 37 organizations employed a combined 2,565 people in 2021 (and there are a lot more than 37 such organizations). If that were one employer, they’d be the 5th largest in the region behind our two hospitals, Caterpillar and Peoria Public Schools. Children’s Home Association of Illinois employs nearly 400 people. UnityPlace and Heartland Healthcare each employ over 200 people. EP!C, Goodwill, the Center for Youth and Family Solutions, Easterseals, TCRC, and Family Core all employ more than 100. These organizations are also buyers of goods and services, everything from food to plumbers. That same study found that for every $1 invested in human services, $1.77 was returned to the economy.
Charity isn’t just charity – it is a fundamental element of our economy. We should celebrate our region’s capacity to care for itself, the way these organizations contribute to the success of all our businesses, and the economic impact they have on our community. How lucky we are to live and work in a region where this sector is recognized and supported. I know that many of you reading this are deeply involved in one or more of the organizations I’m talking about. On behalf of the community you serve as staff, volunteers, benefactors, and leaders, thank you.