The focus on leadership in this issue is most appropriate and timely—especially so considering our responsibilities to advance Peoria’s growth and development in partnership with our colleagues in neighboring communities, the private sector, and with key leaders from the educational, healthcare, governmental and nonprofit sectors.
An Important Cultural Exchange
In September, Peoria, along with area leaders from these sectors, was privileged to host Japanese Consul-General Naoki Ito and representatives of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). We spent an intensive full day exploring the many existing and potential opportunities for mutually beneficial growth—and this important exchange exceeded our expectations. We reviewed existing, robust Japanese investment here, as represented by Komatsu and Fuso Chemical (PMP), and we explored further potential for partnerships in areas like healthcare, technology, R&D and agriculture-related business prospects.
I believe Mr. Ito and our friends from JETRO were impressed. For example, we visited the Jump Simulation and Education Center, located on the OSF campus, which is turning heads as a national leader in simulation. The partnership between OSF and the University of Illinois College of Medicine is drawing hundreds of people hungry to learn about this cutting-edge facility. The ensuing discussion and interest definitely encouraged the exploration of further partnerships with Japanese healthcare, innovation and research enterprises.
Equally exciting and promising was the area of autonomous technology. Consul-General Ito was presented an overview of the locally-based company AutonomouStuff, a pioneer and world leader in supplying the components, engineering, consulting, training and software that enables vehicular autonomy. The company already has an office presence in Japan and is poised for significant growth from right here in central Illinois.
Another promising dimension of our exchange involved more formal initiatives at strengthening our relationship and future economic partnerships. We noted about 60 communities throughout the Greater Midwest that have “sister city” relationships with Japanese cities. Peoria currently has four sister cities (Friedrichshafen, Germany; Benxi, China; Clonmel, Ireland; and Aytou, Lebanon), but none in Japan. Our experience with our four sister cities has generated greater cultural understanding and appreciation—and opened doors for additional connections, economically, educationally and socially. I see massive potential in establishing a sister city in Japan, and I committed to Consul-General Ito to participate in that discussion with a sense of urgency.
Challenges in Local Government
Peoria, as the hub of Illinois’ second-largest metropolitan area, with over 380,000 residents, has a unique responsibility in terms of local government leadership. Our ability to grow, prosper and improve the quality of life here directly impacts our friends and neighbors in the surrounding area. A rising tide lifts all boats, as the saying goes. We don’t for a moment, however, claim a monopoly on high-performance city governance.
While Peoria’s urban environment presents unique challenges in terms of public services, we share a common bond and responsibility with our neighbors to work together to be the best we can be. We also share the challenge of providing accessible and effective public services within an affordable framework. In this regard, all communities in the area feel the financial pain of a state budget that zaps Peoria, for example, with a nearly $3 million impact because Illinois charges local governments a fee to collect the sales tax. In our case, this is a million-dollar hit, on top of which is $1.8 million less in the personal property replacement tax.
The City of Peoria is presently in the preparation and discussion phase of its next two-year budget. It represents a significant challenge, with present projections estimating an $8 million gap between revenues and expenditures. Pension obligations present a particularly difficult challenge because they are out of our control, and the state legislature has been unable to reform pension laws with any sustainable, affordable impact on the municipalities they’ve shouldered with the payment.
Serving is a Privilege
On the plus side, we have an excellent city manager and administrative team who are developing options and alternatives for consideration and discussion. The City Council and city manager are thoroughly committed to full transparency and accountability in budget deliberations. Our meetings and deliberations are public and allow an opportunity for citizen engagement and input.
This is my way of saying that serving in an elected local leadership role is a privilege. It is a privilege to have responsibility to strive for a stronger and more economically vibrant community. It is a privilege because this our home… and we love Peoria.
Those of us in leadership positions have a serious responsibility for our city’s future. We have immense opportunities to partner with others, like JETRO, Consul-General Ito and our colleagues in business, healthcare and education. Thank you for the privilege of serving as mayor at this most challenging time. iBi