Setting the Bar Higher

by Mayor Jim Ardis, City of Peoria

Many of you reading this were at my annual State of the City Address on January 29th. And while space, nor our collective attention span, permit me to repeat those remarks here, I want to focus on the core of that message. Stated simply, we must set the bar of expectations high if we are to grow, diversify and sustain our environmental, social and economic strengths and advancements as an urban community.

As a practical and factual matter, Peoria and its neighboring communities—which comprise our greater urbanized area—do not compete with one another in the larger arena of sustainable job creation, innovation, quality of life, economic growth and social progress. Rather, we are competing for our very livelihood and future with “peer” communities throughout the Midwest. And if we do not set the bar higher, we will surely lose out in the bigger ballgame of economic expansion taking place in the states surrounding Illinois. Our former city manager, Henry Holling, often mentioned a quote to me, which he attributed to former Caterpillar CEO Don Fites. It went something like this: “If you don’t keep score, you’re just practicing.” I’ll always remember that quote.

In this serious competition for investment, innovation and entrepreneurship, we owe a debt of gratitude to the excellent work of The Heartland Partnership’s Economic Scorecard project released last March, which was given leadership by Ryan Spain in his former capacity at H-P. The Greater Peoria Economic Scorecard demonstrates how we measure up against the following “peer” communities: Chattanooga, TN; Quad Cities; Dayton, OH; Fort Wayne, IN; Grand Rapids, MI; Lexington, KY; Rockford, IL; and Springfield, MO. The scorecard makes clear that while we need to measure and compete with our peers, we can—and indeed, should—set the bar higher and look at those cities that are truly excelling in establishing and sustaining a climate for business growth and social progress.

We should aspire to clear a higher bar, as demonstrated by Des Moines, Omaha and Madison. To be bigger and better, we need to think, plan, do and be better. If you closely examine these “higher bar” cities, you will note the significant level of collaboration among business, education, the public sector, social service providers and motivated citizenry, as well as a supportive and disciplined state government. While we have a long way to go at the state level, we have made outstanding progress on the collaboration front at the local level.

The Heartland Partnership was originally created to spur and sustain collaboration among those in the public and private sectors that make a difference in the region’s future. And the recent initiative, Focus Forward CI, builds on the template of that partnership to make it more effective, inclusive and transparent.

I am pleased to note that Peoria County and the City of Peoria have been collaborating more effectively these past few years than ever before. At both the administrative and governance level, we are finding ways to increase the value of services to the public without a corresponding increase in cost. For example, in my 2011 State of the City Address, I asked the police department and sheriff’s department to find ways to share services and resources for the greater goal of best-in-class public safety, and those efforts are moving forward. In addition, Peoria County Board Chairman Tom O’Neill and I enjoy a mutually supportive and congenial relationship, and I thank Tom and County Administrator Lori Luther for working with City Manager Patrick Urich and his staff for the common good of our collective citizenry.

As we look to raise the level of our expectations and aspire to replicate the successes of Des Moines, Madison and Omaha, I am pleased that we are putting the elements in place to serve as a foundation for that aspiration. Looking to the future, there are some truly remarkable developments we can use as leverage for greater growth, diversification and sustainability.

Just consider that the Riverfront Museum/Caterpillar Visitors Center block has indeed been built, and is quickly becoming a desired destination for citizens and visitors alike. The Marriott Hotel project is progressing daily, with demolition for the new Courtyard Marriott taking place, while the Père Marriott is only four months away from its grand reopening. On Fulton Street, you will begin to see the supporting structure for the overhead walkway connecting the hotel to the Civic Center.

The medical center campus continues to grow as well, along with the pursuit of excellence exemplified by the College of Medicine’s Cancer Center and the Jump Trading Simulation and Conference Education Center. On the horizon, we have the exciting prospects of the expansion and rebuilding of the Caterpillar World Headquarters in downtown Peoria. And just a few blocks south, efforts continue to transform the Warehouse District into the place to be for urban living.

Indeed, there is so much taking place in the planning and construction phases that it’s remarkable. Our recently established Downtown Commission certainly has an aggressive and challenging agenda, but it has embraced the idea of “setting the bar”—and then surpassing it. And that’s the bottom line of my State of the City Address. We need to collectively embrace the vision of going head to head with our peer cities and taking it to the next level like the cities we use as models of success.

I look forward to the months and years ahead. We have challenges, of course, but how we navigate those challenges will identify our very character as a community. I am confident that with dedication, hard work, trust in one another, good communication and collaboration, we can indeed become a city that others aspire to be like as well. Have a great 2013! iBi

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