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Pekin is growing business and residential opportunities

Mark Luft is Pekin's mayor. Luft addressed the need to move forward as a community following COVID-19's economic impact on the city during Wednesday's state of the town.
Jordan Mead
Mark Luft is Pekin's mayor. Luft addressed the need to move forward as a community following COVID-19's economic impact on the city during Wednesday's state of the town.

Pekin mayor Mark Luft said Pekin is ready to move forward again economically after the economic toll caused by the pandemic.

“The train stopped, and we had to survive for two years, but now the train is starting to roll again, and it’s showing,” Luft said.

Luft continued, “I have mayors call me throughout the state that looked at Pekin during COVID, and they utilized the same strategy we were using to keep businesses open, keep the lights on, stay under the radar, keep the state out of the city, and continue to move forward. During COVID, we brought in new businesses. There were a little over 300 jobs created during COVID.”

Luft's remarks came during Wednesday afternoon’s State of the City address.

One of the major issues Luft said Pekin is combating is workforce shortages.

Luft said for a long time, businesses did not want to establish in Pekin. Luft said to address these issues, Pekin has worked to improve code enforcements, improve the police and fire departments and enhance the city overall during the last three years.

Residential Life

Pekin uses residential tax increment financing, or TIF, funds towards construction and improving streets, sidewalks and other amenities to further develop designated areas within the city.

Luft said TIF is used to draw employees and improve residential life in Pekin.

“We want Pekin in the forefront of that, and it’s very exciting. The last six months, I’ve gotten several phone calls from people that have moved here from Chicago [and] from other areas around here that are retiring here and that have watched Pekin’s growth in the last three years and what we’re doing that is drawing them here. They also want to participate in helping move us forward,” Luft said.

On top of this, Luft said new apartments are under construction in the city for the first time in decades.

New apartments are going up on Broadway Street, downtown, and on the west side and south sides of Pekin.

Luft said the lack of modern apartments have been problematic for the city’s growth.

“A project has already started for upper scale apartments, which were desperately needed for the companies in Pekin that have people fly in here,” Luft said. “We need them to have that access. Before we did this, we had executives flying into Pekin and staying elsewhere because we could not accommodate those needs. Now, we will.”

Several of the new apartments will be completed in November, according to Luft.

Business opportunities

In Pekin, TIF funds are also being used to improve infrastructure issues for local businesses and help them move beyond the economic challenges the pandemic caused.

“On Monday at our economic development committee, we had 23 applicants for the TIF program for businesses here. We were able to accommodate 15 out of that 23. That is huge,” Luft said. “Most of those are for expansions that are going to create jobs that will improve the infrastructure of some buildings downtown to get tenants in those.”

Luft said especially for smaller businesses, the TIF program will be a vital piece for future economic developments.

“Especially with the smaller mom-and-pop businesses, they have already invested most of their capital into just trying to get the door open. So, any upgrades or when inspection comes in [is] where we work with businesses now. In the past, it seemed like the processes in Pekin were bankrupting a business before they could even get a door open to start earning money, and that is just not the case now,” Luft said.

Amy McCoy is the executive director for the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce, and she said as Pekin moves forward from workplace shortages and other economic struggles, workforce development is a key focus for Pekin’s future.

“Businesses are all facing this challenge, and we understand that it’s hard to operate at less than your capacity," McCoy said. "Folks have to realize workers are different than they were 20-30 years ago and find ways to encourage and incentivize those workers to work for their businesses.”

McCoy said without improvements in worker numbers and people getting involved, there won't be opportunities for businesses to grow in the Pekin area, which ultimately affects the Greater Peoria area.

“We definitely know that we are part of the region. The city of Pekin is absolutely part of the Greater Peoria region, and we work collaboratively with the other chambers. We work collaboratively with other business leaders in the community. So, the projects that we’re on, we’re 100% collaborative with the region, and working together is the only way that any of us are going to succeed,” McCoy said.

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Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WCBU. She joined the station in 2021.