Building Peoria's Future

Peoria has a rich history, and I believe Peoria has a very bright future.

by Mayor Rita Ali, City of Peoria

Native Americans settled here along the Illinois River thousands of years ago because of the abundance of fish and game, and the rich soils in which to grow crops. Hundreds of years ago, European settlers came by the river and stayed for the same reasons. Our wealth of natural resources and favorable climate created some of the most productive agricultural fields in the world.

Peoria was incorporated as a city in 1845, and since then we’ve had several phases of economic drivers. First was whiskey and beer production. Our river provided clean water and transportation; our surrounding farms provided grains. Peoria was the Whiskey Capital of the World.

Then came the industrial boom. As Caterpillar and LeTourneau (now Komatsu) took advantage of our centralized location and skilled workforce, Peoria became the Tractor Capital of the World. These industries created good jobs that supported many other businesses. Peoria even became an entertainment hub—our downtown was full of theaters for shows, music and boxing. I remember many pleasant Saturday afternoons spent downtown at the Madison and Palace theaters.

The good union jobs from Peoria’s employers also came with great healthcare benefits, which helped lead to our next economic driver: Peoria as a strong, regional healthcare center. Peoria punches way above its weight in the healthcare field—with two strong hospital chains, the University of Illinois College of Medicine, the fabulous Jump Simulation Center, several programs offering nursing degrees, the Ronald McDonald House, and soon, a new Comprehensive Cancer Center.

My Priorities as Mayor

Peoria, indeed, has a great history. I am a product of Peoria—a graduate of Peoria Public Schools, Bradley University and Proctor Center Charm School. (Yes, we put books on our heads to learn how to walk straight!) I’m honored to serve as Peoria’s mayor, but I don’t want history to remember me just because I was the first woman and person of color elected to this role. I want to be part of a rebirth of this great city—one that provides opportunities for a good life for all of its citizens.

Our past and our present are truly great foundations on which to build Peoria’s future. Going forward, we need a new comprehensive strategic plan that takes our current strengths and builds upon them, and identifies new areas for growth. My top four priorities as Peoria’s mayor will be:

  1. Population growth driven by job creation—by supporting our current businesses and attracting new businesses.
  2. Revenue growth through large-scale collaborative grant acquisitions—finding "OPM", other people’s money.
  3. Transformation of Peoria’s most distressed areas—through for example, the Peoria Cradle to Career Initiative, which is designed to transform the 61605 zip code, one of the most distressed in America.
  4. Putting Peoria on a path to become a Smart City. In Smart Cities, a recent McKinsey report notes that employment rates increase by one to three percent while living expenses drop by one to three percent. Water consumption declines by 20 to 30 percent, greenhouse emissions are reduced by 10 to 15 percent, and unrecycled waste decreases by 10 to 20 percent. Additionally, disease rates decline by eight to 15 percent, emergency response time drops 20 to 35 percent, and crime declines by 30 to 40 percent. But, the research also points out that cities will first have to invest significantly in technology projects to take advantage of these benefits.

In addition, I intend to work with others to explore new and existing opportunities to bring passenger rail to Peoria.

Working Collaboratively

People are now moving to Peoria from all over the country to take advantage of things some of us may take for granted: low-cost, high-quality housing; high-quality medical care; no big-city traffic jams; beautiful parks; and friendly, open people for neighbors. I am excited about our future! 

Covid-19 threw us a curve ball. But I believe with all my heart, that if we all work collaboratively for the benefit of our city and region, we will knock it out of the ballpark. As Peoria’s mayor, leading that charge is my number-one job. And beginning this month, I’ll be doing that work on a full-time basis. PM

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