April 30, 2024

What Jay Said

Last week, we welcomed Jay Garner to our community for our first-ever Economic Development Forum. Jay is one of the deans of the site selection industry and has been involved in economic development at all levels for over 40 years. Jay also wrote a book called Economic Development is [STILL] Not for Amateurs, an easy and accessible guide that gives a playbook to community and business leaders to position a region for success. For about 90 minutes, Jay and I spoke to a crowd of well over 100 regional stakeholders, both outlining the steps that need to be taken and what Greater Peoria is already doing to move in these directions. It was a great conversation that we hope will spin off into further conversations.

We wanted to bring Jay to Peoria to share his perspective on economic development and provide a common foundation on which all of us can build. Jay has a very approachable style and gave some simple but powerful advice on everything from workforce development to community branding. But it was also important that we just didn’t leave the crowd with a new “to-do list” but to share how we are already tackling that list. For example, Jay hammered home the importance of having an available, educated workforce. His mantra that “talent is the new currency” underscores what we’ve been hearing from local employers for the past few years. The number one barrier to growth and success is finding employees. That’s why the Regional Workforce Alliance, for example, works to organize efforts and align the workforce development system with employer needs. When Jay talks about marketing the region, we can look to the great work of the Choose Greater Peoria initiative. And when Jay says “y’all means y’all” and stresses the importance of ensuring an equitable economic system, we can point to efforts like the Joint Commission on Racial Equity and Justice and even rural broadband planning.

The juxtaposition of Jay’s advice and our own efforts wasn’t made to absolve us from further action. On the contrary, it is to show people that many of the ingredients are already there and that we simply need to lean in on current efforts. We don’t need a shiny, new initiative – though, to be honest, our modus operandi would be to come up with something completely new rather than engage more in what is already going on. We need to recognize that the solutions to our problems are right in front of us but that we cannot do it alone, and we certainly cannot assume others will do it for us.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed having Jay in Peoria and how enthused I was by our collective conversation. Some of you reading this were there, and I hope you share my opinion and feel motivated to lean in harder. But if you weren’t there, we still need you. Economic development is truly a team game, and regardless of your position – business owner, elected leader, nonprofit executive, or even just citizen – you are a part of the team and have a role to play. I invite you to reach out to me if you want to learn how you can help. While Jay says that economic development is not for amateurs, he really is saying that you need to be informed and prepared to play your part. I’m excited to help you do that.