Regional Development Thrives on Collaboration

by Vickie Clark
Economic Development Council for Central Illinois

Collaboration is key to the strength of this region. At EDC, we see firsthand the value of both the public sector and private businesses working together. As we recover from a very challenging period, 2010 requires our continued leadership and collaboration. As business and community leaders, we must be on the same page in order to inspire continued development and grow our regional economy.

As we move away from the recession and see economic growth forecast for the coming years, we look at the top four reasons a business chooses to come or stay in a community:

  • Cost of doing business
  • Available workforce
  • Stable business environment
  • Community vibrancy.

So, how do we “grow” jobs and spawn new development? Healthy businesses expand and create jobs. They also attract new businesses. Sometimes as many as 80 percent of new jobs come from the expansion of existing businesses. It takes less energy and resources to keep an existing business, just as it does to keep an existing client. Therefore, business retention and expansion is at least as critical as business recruitment and attraction. The recent success stories in regional business attraction are directly attributable to collaborative leadership efforts and building on our existing strengths: Bass Pro Shops in East Peoria, The Fresh Market in Peoria, and Wheelworx in Pekin, just to name a few.

As we ask our investors and business sectors about their challenges and how we can help find solutions, two primary points continue to come up: improve our community image and improve our skilled workforce. These challenges were identified pre-recession and they continue to be top of mind as we begin economic recovery.

Both of these strategies are critical to our competitive position.

Improving Our Community Image
Many of our investors feel that we have a less-than-positive image to the outside world. This was evident this past year when many of our national and international media came to town planning on telling the story that we are shutting off the lights and heading out of town just like in the 1980s.

But when they got here, they realized that wasn’t the case. We were able to show them the true story of the region, and they were able to witness our diverse economy and our perseverance and determination to succeed.
We’re on the right track, but we’ve still got more to do. Ask any human resources director or employee recruitment manager how difficult it is to attract to top positions in the company. When people choose first where they want to live and then where they want to work, a top goal must be to build the image of our community. This can be one of our best business retention efforts. And it’s going to take both private-sector and public-sector cooperation to achieve it.

Improving Our Skilled Workforce
We have also been told that we need to showcase our regional assets and improve our skilled workforce. Our economy is diversifying, which is a must if we hope to survive in this ever-changing world. We need to realize our assets and take advantage of them because we can see job growth based upon those assets. We also have to make sure our local workforce follows suit and our workers’ skills match the jobs that we think will be growing in this region.

In 2010 and beyond, as businesses evolve with the new economy, having a skilled workforce that has used education and training to adapt to business needs is critical. Programs like the Charter School, Peoria Promise and integrated training programs at ICC help us grow our own workforce. Entrepreneurial efforts through Peoria NEXT and Bradley University also produce an environment that creates an evolved workforce. Building collaborations to achieve this solution will now be even more critical. This has already been seen with the peoriaareaworks.com portal website that assisted both businesses and potential employees during the recession. The next step is a comprehensive labor analysis that we will achieve with cooperating partners like the Peoria and Tazewell County boards, Workforce Development, Illinois Central College, Ameren and others.

History has shown that after crises and catastrophic events, we usually see an evolution. We will continue to take the steps to create a more diversified economy, just as our leaders did after the great recession of the 1980s. iBi 

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