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A $500K state grant will bolster the effort to draw talent to Peoria

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Joe Deacon
Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce president Joshua Gunn, center, speaks Tuesday alongside State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth and Greater Peoria Economic Development Council CEO Chris Setti at the announcement of a $500,000 state grant toward an effort aimed at attracting talent to the Peoria region.

The Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce is getting a $500,000 state grant for its initiative to boost the region’s population.

Chamber president Joshua Gunn said the influx of funding will boost the collaborative “Greater Peoria 2030” strategy to make the region a preferred destination.

“One of the key challenges for us is attracting and retaining talent. We hear it over and over again from the business community; we hear it over and over again as we look through our budget and our voting numbers,” Gunn said at a news conference on Tuesday. “You need people to build a vibrant region, build a vibrant city and community and talent is at the core of that. When we say talent, we're thinking about people with skills and things that they can contribute to the community.”

State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, said she was motivated to push for the state grant after a discussion with Gunn and other community leaders about a year ago.

“Finding innovative, creative, fun ways to make Peoria a choice community for families (and) a choice community for young professionals is something that I'm very much so tapped into, and excited to explore how we can do a better job of just that,” said Gordon-Booth.

“We all know that people want more out of their community than to just go to work and go home,” said Gordon-Booth. “They want a lot more than that, and frankly, Peoria has a lot more than that and we're proud of that. But we can always do better.”

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Joe Deacon
State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth speaks alongside Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce president Joshua Gunn and Greater Peoria Economic Development Council CEO Chris Setti at the announcement of a $500,000 state grant toward an effort aimed at attracting talent to the Peoria region.

Gunn noted while the Peoria chamber is receiving the grant, the initiative involves several organizations. He acknowledged the cooperation from the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council; the East Peoria, Morton and Pekin chambers of commerce; the Peoria Area Association of Realtors; the Downtown Development Corporation; and others.

“I really want to emphasize the regional approach and the collaborative approach,” echoed Chris Setti, CEO of the EDC. “Oftentimes — and we actually just heard this today — some folks say, ‘There's too many people who are involved in economic development and there's no collaboration.’ That can't be farther from the truth. We collaborate all day long with our partners in all of our communities.”

Gunn said the state funding will be reinvested in helping the regional economy thrive.

“As much as we're grateful for the grant coming to the Chamber of Commerce, I'd like us all to think about this as half-a-million dollars going directly back to the Peoria community,” said Gunn. “We’re going to make investments in the storytelling piece. Marketing is expensive, but we want to make strategic investments in that marketing because we know we’ve got great things going on but if no one knows, it doesn't matter.”

Gunn also said the money will go toward programs and projects aimed at retaining talent in the area, attracting new businesses, sparking more community investment, and developing a “creative” incentive program.

Gordon-Booth said she plans to work at making sure the grant isn’t just a one-time-only cash infusion.

“From the public sector side, this was an initial investment in the City of Peoria,” she said. “Certainly the goal moving forward in future budget cycles is to, one, increase this funding, but to ensure that this is a line-item in the budget so that we can actually do real planning and have a real strategy moving forward — not just a one-off grant opportunity, but something sustainable that we can actually build around for the long term.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.