May 29, 2024

The Last 8 Months

One of the core functions here at Greater Peoria EDC is business attraction. We work hard to best position the region for potential investment. These efforts include understanding and articulating our strengths, actively marketing our assets, cataloging our available sites and buildings, working with partners to develop new siting opportunities, and developing relationships with corporate location advisors, foreign economic consulates, business leaders, and other important partners and sources of information. The work is challenging, but also very interesting. When our great Director of Business Attraction resigned last fall (to take a job with our partners at Intersect Illinois), I made the decision to reorganize Greater Peoria EDC and take on the business attraction role myself. Over the past 8 months, I’ve learned a lot. 

First, the game is pretty simple but everyone is playing it. The community that has the best product (the right site or building) and the best assets (workforce, power capacity, logistics, regulatory, and taxation framework) will be successful in taking advantage of opportunities when presented. I decided to dive into the deep end of business attraction and attended three different conferences in the first three months of 2024: Area Development’s Consultant Forum in Louisville, the Site Selector Guild’s Annual Conference in Nashville, and Gregson & Co.’s NextGen Talks in Greenville. (Hosting conferences in the “-Villes” was obviously a theme.) Though there were variations to be sure, each conference was essentially the same: A bunch of folks that look like me sitting in sessions learning from site selectors on the latest trends and fighting for their attention during coffee breaks and cocktail hour. I don’t mean to minimize the importance of these events. I learned a ton about the work and the opportunities to build and strengthen relationships were important. I think attending conferences is an important part of the work. But I also realized that being best friends with a site selector isn’t going to land you an investment. As Jay Garner, a legend in the site selection industry and recent speaker here in Peoria, says, “no product, no project.”

That leads me to the second thing: We need a better inventory of available property. We are a sort of rebirth of American manufacturing. Supply chain challenges are bringing more manufacturing home to the US. European and Asian companies are also looking to the US as a location to manufacture their goods because of energy stability and workforce quality. Federal policies like the Inflation Reduction Act have created incentives for more domestic manufacturing. And the “electrification of everything” is leading to new product development. Are we prepared in Greater Peoria to take advantage of this wave? We could be the most amazing place to do business, with a solid pipeline of workers at the ready, a low cost of doing business, and a high quality of place, and none of it would matter if we don’t have the right property to match an expanding company’s needs. Over the past 8 months, we have fielded 46 different requests for potential sites. We’ve only been able to respond to 16 of them (we’ve learned that we were not selected in five of those and the others are either still in progress or simply an unknown status). 

That’s not a great batting average, and I’d certainly love to have more plate appearances. To be clear, we have some great properties to market: Pekin and Havana have municipally owned industrial parks. Peoria’s Medina Plains area is attractive and the City of Peoria recently created a TIF district to support development there. There are conversations about developing other opportunities in the City of Peoria, Pekin, Peoria County, Washington, and Morton (among other places). But one area in which we are really lacking land for heavy industrial development. A good percentage of those requests for sites were for opportunities that really needed that heavy classification. That isn’t just zoning (but that’s important) but also being rail-served, close to highways, and possessing the ability to be adequately and reasonably served with utilities. Over this next year, Greater Peoria EDC is going to prioritize understanding better our local landscape and working with our partners to develop new opportunities. (Let me know if you have any ideas!)

Finally, I learned this: There is no better business attraction strategy than a good business outreach strategy. The best leads come from our existing businesses. The corporations that call Greater Peoria home occupy systems that are national or even global. They have suppliers and customers that aren’t located here. They are members of associations in which they have peers and competitors. Business leaders have friends and colleagues in complementary businesses and other industries altogether. When we create relationships with our existing businesses, we learn about these networks and together can help shape opportunities. That’s why, in addition to helping develop properties, we are building a more robust business outreach program. We want to learn as much as we can about the companies that call our region home. Doing so puts us in a position to help them grow and allows us to best understand where opportunities might exist within their industries. If you are a business owner reading this newsletter, you are likely on our list! But if you want to move up that list, drop me a line.

I’ve really enjoyed the business attraction work. It’s fun to be able to talk about Greater Peoria and what I know it has to offer to the wider business community. It’s been enlightening to understand how investment decisions are made and where modern manufacturing is going. And it’s a rewarding challenge to build a team to put the pieces together so that Greater Peoria is more competitive. Thanks for joining us in that work.