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Greater Peoria Groups Launch Effort To Reverse Region's Population Loss

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Joe Deacon
Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Joshua Gunn speaks during a kickoff announcement for the Greater Peoria 2030 campaign Thursday at the Peoria Riverfront Museum.

A decade-long collaborative campaign touting the benefits of Peoria and the surrounding area will focus on both prospective and current residents.

“I want to underscore that this is not just about attracting people here,” said Joshua Gunn, president and CEO of both the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce and the CEO Council.

“It's also about keeping the great and wonderful people that we already have in Peoria. So we want to build a concentrated campaign around welcome and retention. But we also know that keeping the people here is not going to be enough to stem the tide of population decline.”

Gunn spoke Thursday during a kickoff announcement for the “Greater Peoria 2030” campaign held at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. The campaign comes in response to 2020 Census figures showing significant population loss in the eight-county region.

“This campaign will bridge many of our efforts and communities — from the urban streets of Peoria to the duck lines of Havana — in ways that have never been done before,” said JD Dalfonso, president and CEO of Discover Peoria (formerly the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau).

“We need to be able to communicate a positive message to the people that live here because they are going to be ultimately our best ambassadors,” said Chris Setti, CEO of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council.

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Joe Deacon
A presentation slide shows a Greater Peoria 2030 campaign billboard with the slogan "True Urban. Boundless Country." Billboard ads will be shown along highways in the Chicago area.

The initial steps include two three-month digital marketing drives targeting Chicagoland residents between the ages of 21-45. Along with search engine and social media messaging, billboard ads featuring the slogan “True Urban. Boundless Country” will be placed along Chicago highways.

“We need to attract a diverse array of talent,” said Randy McDaniels, president of McDaniels Marketing. “It's what every community wants, right?: A lot of 21- to 45-year-olds. So we're not holding back, that's what we're going after, those (people) that can make a big difference now and for generations to come.”

According to 2020 Census figures, Peoria, Tazewell, and Woodford counties saw a 2.47% loss in population over the last decade. Adding in the five surrounding counties of Fulton, Mason, Logan, Stark, and Marshall, that rises to 3.85% — or nearly 17,800 people.

“Instead of dwelling on the sort of alarming nature of that, we see that as an opportunity,” said Gunn. “This is the best time to be in Peoria, Illinois, and this is our moment to seize the momentum that we've already started to build here in this community.”

Other agencies participating in the campaign are the Downtown Development Corporation of Peoria, and the chambers of commerce from East Peoria, Morton, and Pekin. The initial campaign investment of $75,000 runs through June 2022.

“Being nonprofits, we have what we have. But we thought something was better than nothing,” said Gunn. “We also hope, and I'm not afraid to say this, we hope that by putting some of our own skin in the game, that we can encourage others in the community to also invest, because we can't do this on our own.”

The effort will use indicators such as population growth per city, increased sales and property tax revenue, new businesses, and job growth to gauge the campaign’s success.

“I'll be really happy if we all feel really good about where we're going after year one, and also instill this true spirit of regionalism,” said Gunn. “I can't stress enough: a win for Pekin is a win for Peoria, and win for Washington is a win for East Peoria. If we can engender that spirit of regionalism, I'll feel like we've had a successful first year.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.