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Civic leaders tout what Peoria region already has to offer

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Peoria-area civic leaders are ready to dust off the disappointment of the Caterpillar Inc. announcement about its headquarters and move forward because, they said Thursday, there is enough going on in the community that it will continue to thrive.

In fact, the head of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council said 41 of the area’s employers have said they will add at least 9,200 jobs in the next 24 months, demonstrating that diversity is already here and will continue.

“That is some positive news and shows we have diversity and are building resilience,” said Jennifer Daly after announcing the results of a recently completed GPEDC survey of the area employers. “The loss of the 300 top Caterpillar jobs will be felt but the 12,000 who remain will continue to serve as a strong economic engine for the area. We should be proud of the diverse groups of industry we have.”

Daly joined several other area civic leaders at a news conference at the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce. The purpose was to let the community know that while the Caterpillar news came as a shock the community is prepared to move past it and continue growing well into the future.

Citing all the positive things happening in the region, Jeff Griffin, head of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce said that’s where the emphasis needs to be now. Among those he and others named were:

  • The recent multi-million dollar expansion of RLI Corp., the leading specialty insurance company in the country;
  • The ongoing work on the city of Peoria’s Warehouse District and the completion of East Peoria’s Levee District;
  • The work the Chamber and CEO Council has done to help more than 1,000 employers grow;
  • The growth of the health care industry in the region, making it the largest in downstate Illinois, and home of the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the region;
  • The $1 billion worth of annual research and development in the community, including the Jump Trading Simulation Center, University of Illinois College of Medicine, Peoria NEXT, the ag lab and, of course, Caterpillar;
  • The expansion of the Peoria Civic Center that has made it the largest convention center between St. Louis and Chicago;
  • Establishment as a youth sports hub, including the Civic Center, Eastside Center and most recently the Louisville Slugger Complex, and
  • The growth of the Gen. Wayne Downing Peoria International Airport, which now offers non-stop flights to four of the five largest hubs in the country.

Griffin said Caterpillar has promised Peoria will remain its hometown and that the company’s support of the region will not change. “We should be and we are proud of all we have to offer,” he said.

Gary Densberger, a commission for the city of East Peoria, said, “If ever there was a time to come together as a region, this is it.” He added that the relationships between the communities and Caterpillar need to remain strong or be strengthened so that the area is ready when the jobs that have been lost the last year or so come back.

Noting most of the Caterpillar manufacturing jobs in Illinois are in East Peoria, he added, “They are still there because Caterpillar still sees value in our region.”

Michael Freilinger, CEO of the Downtown Development Corp., said the area’s leaders have plans to diversify and strengthen the region, plans that have long been in place. “Efforts to advance our vision are still underway,” he said, noting that 184 residential units have been added downtown in the last three years with many more yet to come. More than $62 million worth of building permits have been issued for downtown work.

“Our city and our region have bright futures,” he said.

An industry seeing growth and having a bright future is tourism and conventions, said Don Welch, CEO of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. He said the region is still executing plans set in place a decade ago when the decision was made to expand the Civic Center and the economic impact it has made already has been impressive.

Welch showed a brief video that was completed just before Caterpillar’s surprise announcement. That video talks about the diversity of the region and everything it has to offer residents and visitors alike, a video that would take some resident by surprise seeing it all together like that.

That video can be seen on the “Enjoy Peoria” page on YouTube.

Welch said there soon will be an announcement about a series of music festivals on Peoria’s riverfront, adding to the already-strong cultural assets in the community.

Mayor Jim Ardis reiterated what he said during a news conference Tuesday and again on Wednesday during his annual State of the City address, and that is the Caterpillar announcement “is not going to stop us. There is a lot of resolve in this community. If anything, we are probably more energized.”

Asked whether there was any chance the city might meet with Caterpillar directors about the decision and seeing if it can be reversed – as suggested by other civic leaders – Ardis said the decision has been made. “Let’s get over it and move on,” he said.

One Peoria business leader asked if the Caterpillar situation would affect the construction trades. James Dillon, a Peoria County Board member and the associate director of the West Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, said there are many building projects going on or in the works in the region.

“We’ll be here. There are some exciting things going on,” he said.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).