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Regional Plan Seeks to Raise Peoria's Self-Image

“No one will love us if we don’t love ourselves.”

That’s Chris Setti, CEO of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, referring to one of the challenges raised in a recent report to promote economic development in the Peoria area.

The Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) is a document developed every five years to establish a working plan to assist the economies in five counties: Peoria, Woodruff, Tazewell, Mason and Logan.

“This time we used the Big Table meetings to generate goals and objectives,” said Setti, referring to community meetings that were held in 2019 and 2020. Along with programs held in Peoria, sessions were also held in Brimfield, Delavan, Havana, Lincoln and Metamora, he said.

The CEDS report, along with providing an economic blueprint for the region, also allows communities to seek federal aid for projects. The U.S. Economic Development Administration allocates $1.5 billion in grants each year, said Setti, pointing out the federal government prefers projects that are part of an established plan.

A pessimistic self-image is just one of the issues identified in the report, along with shoring up areas of persistent poverty, dealing with an ongoing racial divide and developing and encouraging additional worker education and training.

“The pessimistic self-image: I do believe it’s something that’s endemic to the Peoria area, but it’s something we have to deal with. That’s why a couple of years ago my organization and the CEO Council launched the Big Table Initiative to start talking about not just what’s wrong with our community and what we want to change but what’s great about our community,” said Setti.

One of the opportunities cited in the report is positioning the greater Peoria area as a hub for remote and contract workers who may seek relief from the big city during--and after--the pandemic.

“Working from home—I don’t know if that becomes a long-term trend. I do think we’re well-positioned as a region to take advantage of the shifting sands in the way people work,” said Setti, adding that another workforce strategy seeks to increase the number of people between the ages of 24 and 44 that move into the area.

“We’ve seen evidence over the past year of people who have moved here and are able to work from home,” said Setti.

Older residents also are part of the CEDS, he said. An aging population poses a threat in one part of the report, but also exists as an opportunity: turning the Peoria area into a retirement center that would attract and retain retirees.

“You’ll find all of that in the CEDS under the category of talent attraction,” said Setti.

The 50-page document is available at the EDC website.

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Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.