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Organizers share discussions, takeaways from Big Table 2022 in report

Greater Peoria Economic Development Council CEO Chris Setti shares results from the Big Table 2022 report-back at the Peoria Riverfront Museum on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023.
Collin Schopp
Chris Setti, CEO of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, shares results from the Big Table 2022 report at the Peoria Riverfront Museum on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023.

The organizers of the 2022 Greater Peoria Big Table are back with a 17-page report on the results and conversations from this year’s event.

The Big Table brings together community members with business owners and other community leaders for speakers, panels and group discussion at the Peoria Civic Center. It’s organized by a partnership between the Morton Economic Development Council, the Morton Chamber of Commerece, the Peoria Area Chamber, the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce, the CEO Council and the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council.

The four main topics for 2022 were: diversity, equity and inclusion; innovation and entrepreneurship; quality of life and place; and workforce development.

“We had over 400 participants attending from 14 counties throughout the region,” Leigh Ann Brown, CEO of the Morton Economic Development Council, said at a news conference Tuesday. “We had just shy of 92% of the attendees saying that they feel more optimistic about 12 months following the Big Table.”

According to surveys done by the event, 97% of attendees also said they were “satisfied” with the experience and around 98% said they would return to a similar event in the future. Organizers also shared highlights from each of the key topics at the 2022 Big Table.

Diversity, equity and inclusion discussions focused primarily on access to health care. Joshua Gunn, CEO of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, said there was a specific focus on diversity in health care staff.

“Another idea that keeps coming up is focusing on diversifying the medical workforce,” he said. It’s a critical need in our region that people can see themselves represented in their health care providers. The data tells us that when there's greater diversity in the health care workforce, there’s better outcomes for marginalized communities and communities of color.”

Language barriers, disparities in health care insurance policies and access to technology also were identified as roadblocks to equitable health care access in the region. Gunn said there are efforts already underway among health care providers across the Peoria region to diversify their workforce and expand accessibility options.

For innovation and entrepreneurship, organizers highlighted the need to support small business and also praised projects like Distillery Labs, a startup accelerator. Suggestions also included introducing the concept of entrepreneurship in educational settings at younger ages, such as elementary and middle school.

In workforce development, the focus was primarily on transportation access and adjusting to work in a post-pandemic world.

“Some of the common views that we have is that there's definitely a need, of course, to revisit employee and employer relationships.” said Evan Jenkins, director of business development at Manpower, a Peoria employment agency.

Examples of revisiting the relationship, he said, include discussing and maintaining job flexibility, or the ability to leave a job if there’s a personal emergency. He also used access to transportation as an example, encouraging employers to work with employees who have issues finding reliable, timely transportation to and from work.

Finally, the quality of life and place piece of the Big Table 2022 discussions focused primarily on creating entertainment and recreation options that can attract more young professionals, and more people in general, to the Peoria area.

While these are large, long-term goals, Chris Setti, the CEO of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, said there already are some ongoing initiatives that embody the Big Table spirit. For example, Gunn said these include Distillery Labs' work in entrepreneurship and the Illinois Central College GPEAK Certification program that certifies students in so-called “soft skills” for the workplace.

Setti said organizers also will be monitoring a handful of metrics over the next few years to measure the success of the Big Table.

“We're talking about adding to the population, right, so that the 2030 census looks better than the 2020 census,” he said. “We're hoping for an increase in wages, a decrease in, you know, in poverty, in a decrease in food instability, all of these things are metrics. These are things that can be measured.”

You can find the full report here.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.