A decade of progress: how a new grant aims to jumpstart Peoria’s population revival

Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 8:16 PM CST
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - Over the past several decades, Peoria has seen a steady population decline as residents leave to explore opportunities elsewhere. But a new initiative from the Chamber of Commerce intends to change that.

Earlier this month, State Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth announced a $500,000 grant from the state of Illinois. The goal of the funding aims not only retain local talent within the area, but to create appeal for others from across the country to move for opportunities that Central Illinois can offer. That includes bringing new business, creating community investments, and growing tax revenue. It’s the core mission of a 10-year plan called ‘Greater Peoria 2030′ (or ‘GP2030′), set to reverse the gradually shrinking population the city has witnessed year after year.

“As you grow your community, the lifestyle, the quality of life, the amenities that exists for all of us get better. So growing communities get better for those of us that are already there, and get more attractive to people on the outside,” says President and CEO of the Peoria Chamber of Commerce, Joshua Gunn.

Gunn says the effort is about changing the narrative on a broader scale, instead of focusing on the negative aspects. To do so, a main tenet of the plan includes making the area’s offerings more enticing by propping them up and publicizing them. But it’s only one of the first steps in a long-term strategy.

“$500,000 is a great start, but it’s gonna take investments from across the region to be successful, and I think we’re all in on this,” notes Gunn.

For him, Gunn applauds Illinois for recognizing the need to keep its residents in the long run and grow its industries as a result, with several large businesses leaving the state over the course of the past year.

“The state of Illinois is really innovative in this regard, the public sector addressing and investing in its talent loss is a really innovative investment, and we’re going to capitalize on that investment.”

The plan consists of a three-step strategy, with action set to begin as soon as next year. The first step will involve marketing on both social media and traditional mediums, telling stories focused on those that chose to call the Greater Peoria area their home. The second consists of finding ways to bring people together, organizing and creating connections at public events like local festivals, games, and gatherings. In order to retain the population, organizers say, you need to give them reasons to.

“People are also looking for those external experiences, people want to have those experiences outside the workplace, outside the home,” says Gordon-Booth.

The third is incentives, a multi-faceted step that still has its approach in development. Possible moves could include partnering with existing employers to offer relocation packages, along with additional investments for businesses both big and small. Providing ‘welcome packages’ with offerings like free tickets to a nearby performance or coupons is also in the cards for anyone that’s willing to take the leap.

Gordon-Booth notes in her recollection, a movement to advertise the city and the surrounding area on this scale is a first, at least one that those behind it haven’t seen in a while.

Residents can expect to see the first hints of these campaigns in the coming months. And with so much on the horizon, organizers say there’s a lot to be excited about.

“We’re going to start seeing more and more people starting to take advantage of what we have to offer,” says Gordon-Booth.