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Peoria pursuing a path toward becoming a ‘center of innovation’

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali discusses the city's Technology Industry Grant Program and the new partnership between the Peoria Next Innovation Center and the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC) during a news conference last week.
Joe Deacon
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali discusses the city's Technology Industry Grant Program and the new partnership between the Peoria Next Innovation Center and the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC) during a news conference last week.

The city of Peoria is making efforts to embrace technology and encourage innovation as an approach to driving economic growth.

A grant program using some of the city's American Rescue Plan Act money will assist businesses pursuing technological advancements in agriculture, medicine and biology.

Meanwhile, the Peoria Next Innovation Center has entered a partnership to help start-up companies focusing on advanced manufacturing technology.

Mayor Rita Ali said Peoria’s new Technology Industry Grant program demonstrates the city's commitment to promoting innovation.

“The city has set aside $250,000 of American Rescue Plan funds to support qualifying businesses in the fields of advanced manufacturing, biotech, med-tech, and ag-tech,” Ali said. "Grants will range between $10,000-$25,000."

The amount of each grant award depends on which city corridor a business is located. Those in the Central Business District, the Medical District and the West Main Street area are eligible for the maximum $25,000.

The first batch of applications for these grants is currently being reviewed, and the city hopes to allocate the funds as quickly as possible.

Peoria Next Innovation Center director Mike Stubbs said that kind of investment can be huge for new businesses.

“Giving them $25,000 or $10,000 from a grant, to buy vital equipment or other necessary needs to make sure that the launch is successful, it gives people that have always had that idea in the back of their head of like, ‘I really want to do this, but I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to make it, knowing that I'm going to have to leave this stable job or this thing that feels safe,’ – it gives them that just further incentive to shorten that chasm, to shorten the gap to allow them to think about launching,” Stubbs said.

Stubbs sees similar business development potential in Peoria Next’s new partnership with the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC). The collaboration will see IMEC provide four eligible manufacturing startups with the first three months of a one-year lease at one of Peoria Next’s vacant office facilities or lab spaces.

“From a partnership perspective, we're providing more training for those manufacturing-specific trainings here housed at Peoria Next as well as the rent incentive,” Stubbs said. “So if you are a startup, we're able to support four brand new startups here with three free months’ rent for spaces that are very specific and unique to the area. So if you're looking for research spaces, there's no better time to do that here."

“In addition to recruiting companies or people that are entrepreneurs in the area to create companies here, Peoria entrepreneurs, it also gives us the ability as an incentive to invite other companies from outside the Peoria area to gain access to these grant funds and get a home here in Peoria to then put their roots and grow," he said. "We found that when people move here, they really love it and continue to stay.”

Stubbs said Peoria Next has two vacant 500-square-foot office spaces and two research lab spaces available through the IMEC partnership. He said they're the only lab spaces of their kind in a 90-mile radius.

IMEC President Dave Boulay said the opportunity will help early-stage businesses gain their footing in any evolving marketplace.

“These are innovative spaces; they're trying to find new pathways, new approaches. So cash flow becomes an important challenge to work through,” Boulay said. “So if we can help offset some of that cash flow challenge so that they can really focus on that technology, really focus on how to scale that up – which our technical assistants can come in and support along the way – it's really for that reason. We wanted to make sure that we try to help remove any barrier we can for the companies that are going to be the future of our manufacturing industry.”

Boulay said it's also a way to build on Peoria’s position in the manufacturing industry.

“Peoria is a powerhouse in manufacturing," he said." There’s well over, in the Greater Peoria area, well over 550 manufacturers, 33,000-plus workers. I think it's safe to say our traditions run deep, whether it's rooted in construction, or mining equipment, or distilleries, or manufacturing today that includes medical devices or natural fiber-based products, and so much more. It's safe to say this is a community of makers; it has always been in our DNA.”

Stubbs said that in its 15 years, Peoria Next has been home to more than 60 companies that collectively represent a valuation of more than $1 billion.

“Collectively, the IMEC partnership and the grant show that Peoria is seeking and supporting innovative startups, particularly in the manufacturing industry – because in addition to manufacturing startups, industry codes that fall within IMEC’s support include biotechnology and med tech R&D (research and development) type companies,” Stubbs said.

Mayor Ali said the city's grant program and the Peoria Next-IMEC partnership enhance the goal of making Peoria a “center of innovation.”

“This is really about building up our new businesses to make sure that they are sustainable, to make sure that they last, that they're built right and given the right support at the very beginning,” Ali said. “Not when they're struggling to survive, but right at the very beginning, right up front (we’re) supporting these new businesses to make sure that they thrive as new manufacturers within Peoria. It's going to boost our economy.”

Peoria Next and IMEC will host an open house for startup entrepreneurs interested in the free lease opportunity on Wednesday.

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.