Buy local, shop where you live, keep your dollars circulating in the region… The message of the “shop local” movement is a no-brainer. And though we’ve heard it over and over again, it’s a message we’ll keep repeating because it’s so essential to the continued success of our region… or any region.
Once upon a time, we didn’t have to say it—“shopping local” was our only option—but the rise of the Internet, among other factors, has made it a necessity. Running a business has always been challenging; today, it’s particularly so. The “new normal” continues to be: constant challenges, continuous change, working harder, doing more with less.
I’ve recently had several discussions with other small business owners regarding their own challenges. One restaurant owner has lost significant business due to client layoffs and changing consumer habits; it’s all he can do to keep up with new competition, an explosion of leisure options, and various fundraisers and special events competing for his customers' attention every night.
Another business owner’s primary complaint was his employees’ being distracted by their phones—a very real concern in this day and age. Again, technology is the culprit, the primary driver of so many of these changes as more and more services become virtual.
As the business world changes, new initiatives are attempting to help us meet these new challenges. You can read more about some of them in this issue—from the Brave Launch business accelerator program at Bradley University to Intersect Illinois, a program working to improve our state's business competitiveness, to Catalyst, a new entrepreneurial and innovation center to be located in Peoria’s Warehouse District.
Elsewhere, we again profile some of our region’s successful small businesses. Congratulations to Avanti’s and Bard Optical for reaching milestone anniversaries in 2016! Albert Zeller’s story, especially, is the classic American success story. When he came to this country, he “had a one-way ticket, 65 dollars in [his] pocket, and did not speak any English. “But I wasn’t going to go back,” he declares. “I knew it was going to take a lot of energy, a lot of work, a lot of dedication and endurance—that I knew. And I went for it.”
Fifty years later, amidst the daily challenges of business and the broader changes in society, he’s still here—a fixture of Peoria, more successful than ever. “You have to have that entrepreneurial spirit,” Zeller explains. “And once you find it, you need to stay with it.” iBi