Word on the Street: No sugar for this medicine to go down

By John Sharp And Chris Kaergard

Journal Star

Posted Apr 02, 2012 @ 01:00 AM

PEORIA —At first glance, the early word back from consultant Frank Knott on how the Tri-County Area can work together better on economic development looks pretty damning.

Of the 10 national “best practices” Knott identified for community economic development efforts, the region rated “weak to none” on six, scored below average on two others, and just barely made it to mediocrity on the last two. Our failures include a lack of measurable outcomes and benchmarks and an ingrained behavior to fear rather than embrace change.

The information that was presented Thursday was the result of 65 interview sessions over the course of an intensive three weeks of meetings around the area with people in area governments, not-for-profits and in the private sector. All told, between 200 and 300 people were interviewed in person, with others also involved in over-the-phone discussions.

Moreover, local economic leaders by a wide majority do not see any kind of “clear, well-organized strategic economic vision.” This is abundantly clear in the public and private sectors, but tellingly less so among not-for-profit groups, including the current economic development powers that be.

“We are very concerned about the lack of integration” between the players on economic development, Knott said.

But to be fair to him, Knott wouldn’t consider the report to be damning. Indeed, he sees a “huge common interest,” not to mention a “common recognition” of what the problems are, and a distinct desire to improve across the board.

He rightly points out that “if you don’t have facts, if you don’t have measurements to look at,” the relevant data isn’t available to make improvements. So as uncomfortable as these early conclusions may be, they serve a purpose

There’s no question that Knott is right: The region as a whole shows a tremendous amount of promise. And it’s true that if properly unified and properly branded – but not, please, we beseech you, by embracing the suggestion to resurrect the tired cliche about playing in Peoria – there is practically nothing but opportunity.

Consider this a first step in the process. First you have to find out what everybody thinks is going wrong – or to be more diplomatic, where the weak spots are. Since that appears to be, well, pretty much everywhere along the economic development continuum, it’s clear where the improvements need to be.

What matters next is coming together with a cohesive proposal – due to be presented within about six weeks – and securing continued buy-in to a collective, regional approach from governments, the private sector and not-for-profits.

One sincerely hopes that doesn’t turn out to be too tall of an order, not just because of the tens of thousands of dollars that have been put forward to get to this point, but because the possibility of significant improvements is too great to ignore. (C.K.)

John Sharp covers City Hall for the Journal Star. He can be reached at 686-3282 or jsharp@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSharp99. Chris Kaergard covers politics and Peoria County government for the Journal Star. He can be reached at 686-3135 or ckaergard@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard

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