The South Shall Rise Again

by Denise Moore
Black Business Alliance, Peoria Chapter

The outmoded battle cry is fitting when it comes to redevelopment efforts in Peoria. 

In these days of political incorrectness, let me offer the following: “The South shall rise again.” Those who know me know that I am no Scarlett O’Hara, but notwithstanding my disdain for anything that detracts from civility, harmony and a more perfect union, the outmoded battle cry of the confederates is fitting when it comes to redevelopment efforts in Peoria.

In my various roles in life, I have had countless conversations with residents who “grew up on the South Side… or North Valley,” moved away “before it became bad,” and are “glad to see it making a comeback.”

Peoria’s history is in many ways a classic tale of the socio-economic problems that arise from urban flight, blight and disinvestment. Back in the day, the South Side and Warehouse District boasted of businesses that complemented the classic vista of the typical downtown area. And anyone who thinks the decline of those businesses is not linked to an economic exodus is whistling Dixie.

Better Opportunities Ahead
Ironically, some of the same motivations for this exodus are why many forward-thinking entrepreneurs have decided to put down roots in these underdeveloped areas. What goes around comes around, and we are all coming to the realization that the future of the city is linked to redevelopment of the South Side. If better opportunities led some people away, better opportunities are now leading many investors back.

The prototype for such redevelopment is the Minority Business Development Center, which has received major funding from Peoria County, City of Peoria, CEFCU and UnityPoint Health. Located at 2139 SW Adams, the MBDC is housed in an old Ben Franklin store. Now two-thirds renovated, the building is a model for what can be done with a solid structure, some investment dollars, and a viable and creative business plan.

April 2017 saw the opening of the MBDC Incubator. The 3,000-square-foot space includes five private offices, four cubicles and a training room equipped with Wi-Fi and a large-screen smart monitor. This decades-old building now also includes an open-concept kitchen/breakroom and restroom facilities. Currently under renovation is the final 2,000 square feet that will provide a classroom, technology lab, conference room, offices and collaboration space. Plans are for a fourth-quarter 2017 opening.

Our Intentional Efforts
Established two years before the 24/7 Wall St. online data outlet proclaimed Peoria the “worst city in the nation for black Americans,” the MBDC was formed with the premise that crime, poverty and economic disinvestment are connected to the lack of educational resources and political will needed to support and sustain business creation in the black community.

The MBDC is addressing concerns first expressed by community members and highlighted in the 24/7 Wall St. report by providing a 21st-century facility offering original and established programming. MBDC research has shown a need for programming in the following areas: a web-based minority business directory to assist companies with procurement goals, self-employment training, contractor development, information technology and health services. These areas are not only acknowledged as in demand by the business community, but are highly sought by citizens of Peoria as well. The MBDC is the only organization in the city providing a holistic business focus and training to the minority community.

The MBDC has earned a partnership commitment from the Small Business Administration, Illinois Small Business Development Center and SCORE to offer business consulting and training. In addition, we are in discussions with Illinois Central College and Peoria Public Schools on ways to engage the South Side community. Given the grim poverty statistics, crime, poor housing and jobless rate in the 61605 zip code, the MBDC needs partners to find ways to empower the disenfranchised with economic development and job creation.

In addition to city government, major corporations, businesses, institutions, investors and other municipalities in the Peoria MSA must buy in. The question then becomes: Is there intentionality in efforts to invest in the Minority Business Development Center to positively impact Peoria’s future—the region’s future? Or will the region turn a deaf ear to opportunity knocking by saying, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a…” iBi

Denise Moore is President/CEO of the Black Business Alliance Peoria Chapter, Inc., which operates the Minority Business Development Center and WPNV 106.3FM radio station. For more information, visit bbapeoria.org or call (309) 966-3989.

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