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A 'Rust Belt' image may cause Central Illinois to be overlooked for economic development. Here's how that could change

Jeff Smudde / WCBU

Central Illinois has a lot going for it economically. The problem is, many of the site selectors considering locations across the country for big businesses often hold an antiquated view of the region.

That's according to Dan Seals, CEO of Intersect Illinois, the state's public-private economic development partnership. He recently hosted a site selectors' regional tour.

"This is not what they were expecting," Seals said. "They were really thinking that they were going to sort of see this old-school Rust Belt economy. And then they come in and they see that there's advanced manufacturing, there's a heavy amount of innovation and tech going on. Not just the Rivians of the world, but the autonomous robotics, ag tech, and agribusiness. (They) really were surprised that the vibrancy and depth of the economy."

Seals said the site selectors told him north-Central Illinois needs to better market itself.

"They said, 'look, you've got to start to get your story out. We didn't know that this was here. And we're guessing a lot of other folks don't know about the assets that you have here,'" Seals said.

Seals said the region might consider branding itself, similarly to North Carolina's Research Triangle.

"I'll leave it to the region to come up with the name, if it's the Illinois Innovation Corridor, the Central Six Communities, I don't know," he said. "But, you know, have something that identifiable."

He said digital marketing, direct email, and conferences could bolster those efforts to build up Central Illinois' reputation as an innovation hub.

"The economic meters that we have in the north central portion of Illinois work well together. Don't get me wrong, they can compete with each other, but when they need to, they cooperate and collaborate to get things done," he said.

Intersect Illinois is also working on its own campaign to lure businesses to the state.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.